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Focusing on scoring chances

Boston Bruins v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

One of the interesting underlying trends this season, aside from their rapidly declining shot-share numbers, is the Oilers rate of scoring chances for and against at even-strength. They currently rank 23rd in the league when it comes to their share of the total scoring chances (SCF%) with 47.76%, generating 25.01 scoring chances per hour (21st in the league) and allowing 27.35 per hour (22nd). Note that the scoring chance data used here is based on Natural Stat Trick’s definition of the metric, which you can read more about on their glossary page.

Below is the Oiler’s share of scoring chances this season at even-strength, in rolling 10-game segments to demonstrate the trend. I’ve also included the team’s declining shot-share, specifically Fenwick For (or unblocked shot attempts), which is used often as a proxy for shot quality. Fenwick data is much larger of a sample size than scoring chances, and can give us a little more confidence in our interpretation of the publicly available scoring chance data.

The Oilers rate of scoring chances for and against have gotten worse since Hitchcock arrived, with the team’s overall numbers taking a hit after he replaced McLellan behind the bench and taking another hit after Klefbom was hurt. Below is the team’s rate of scoring chances for and against per hour broken out by rolling 10-game segments, which gives us a better idea of what the trend has been like over the first forty games this season.

Another way to break it out is by three distinct periods: the first 20 games of the season with McLellan behind the bench, the next 11 games with Hitchcock behind the bench and Klefbom in the line up, and the next 9 games with Hitchcock behind the bench and without Klefbom in the line up.

Coaching Period Games Scoring Chances For/60 Scoring Chances Against/60 Scoring Chances For%
Under McLellan 20 26.42 26.68 49.75
Under Hitchcock w/ Klefbom 11 25.04 27.56 47.60
Under Hitchcock without Klefbom 9 21.73 28.40 43.35

What’s interesting here is that the team was close to breaking even when it came to their share of the total scoring chances under McLellan, but slipped to 47.60% after Hitchcock arrived and then down to 43.35% after Klefbom got hurt. Over the last 10 games, the Oilers have the third worst share of scoring chances (43.94%) in the league, and the worst share of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, our proxy for shot quality) with 41.35%.

It’s a pretty stark decline but shouldn’t be overly surprising considering how good Klefbom was when he was healthy and really the lack of talent behind him on the roster. With Klefbom on the ice in the first 20 games of the season, the team posted two more scoring chances per hour than without him and allowed two less. And with Darnell Nurse on the ice, the team produced about the same rate of scoring chances as without him, but allowed close to four more scoring chances against per hour.

In term’s of on-ice shot-shares over the first 20 games, Klefbom led all Oilers regular defencemen with a 53.65% scoring chances for percentage, and a 54.16% Fenwick for percentage. Nurse on the other hand had a 47.17% scoring chances for percentage and a paltry 46.45% Fenwick for percentage. So it really should be no surprise that the team is now allowing more scoring chances over the recent stretch of games with Klefbom injured and Nurse getting more minutes.

What’s also interesting is that Hitchcock appears to be more keen on improving the rate of scoring chances against when, as we saw in the table above, it’s really been their rate of scoring chances for that’s taken a bigger hit over the course of the season. Over the three distinct periods of the season, the rate of shots against has increased by 1.75 per hour, while the rate of scoring chances for has dropped by close to five per hour (4.69).

And not only is Hitchcock more concerned with the scoring chances against, but he’s focused on the play of the depth players on the roster.

We got to do a better job of limiting the chances on the back end of our lineup. Way too many in-zone scoring chances, way too many red zone scoring chances. We got to stop that if we want to win hockey games. We’re right on the edge of it. We got a lot of things that are really going well from a play standpoint but we give up way too many red zone scoring chances too deep down our lineup. They got to get better in our own zone so we’re not giving up the quality we’re giving up right now. - Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock (2019, January 1)

Looking at the scoring chance data, it’s not just the depth players posting poor numbers, but also the players who are leading the team in goals. Below are the on-ice share of scoring chances at even-strength for McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Chiasson broken out by the three periods of the season, with the rest of the team grouped together as The Rest. For this latter category, I pulled the team’s on-ice numbers without the other four forwards on the ice.

Again it really needs to be emphasized that while the team’s rate of scoring chances against has slightly increased over the course of the season, it’s the significant drop in the rate of scoring chances for that should be of concern. Every forward has seen a drop in their on-ice scoring chances for numbers since Hitchcock arrived, indicating that there might be more systemic issues at play here.

It’ll be interesting to see how the team not only tries to improve their shot-share and scoring chance numbers over the next 42 games, but also what management’s takeaways will be from this current slump. For now, the message from the team seems to be that it’s all because of injuries on the blueline (i.e., Klefbom, Russell, Sekera) that they’re in this situation and, based on their two recent acquisitions, the Oilers are more focused on improving their defensive play. There’s definitely more to this current problem and it’ll be up to the management team to recognize the true needs of the organization, identify potential options and make decisions based on sound logic and reasoning. Unfortunately, the general manager is in panic mode in an effort to save his job and likely doesn’t have the time or patience to handle this problem appropriately.

Data: Natural Stat Trick