Probably not the start the coaching staff was expecting as the Oilers currently rank fifth in the North division after seven games with a 0.429 points percentage. They have a -4 goal differential (all situations), with even-strength (5v5) issues appearing to have carried over from last season. They’ve been outscored 12-15 at even-strength - a 44.44% goal-share, which ranks 24th in the league and sixth-best (only ahead of the Canucks) in their division.
|Team||GP||Point %||Goal differential|
While the Oilers top forwards are producing well, it’s the team’s results with their bottom six forwards on the ice that has been alarming. Turris’ goal against the Jets on Sunday night was the first time the Oilers have scored at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s over the course of 124 minutes, or about 38% of the Oilers total playing time where they’ve also allowed 10 goals against. In those minutes, the Oilers have spent a considerable amount of time playing without the puck, often in the own zone, getting out-shot at close to a 3-1 clip, and posting a Corsi For% of 33.93%.
Below is a breakdown of how the forward lines have done so far this season, broken up by the McDavid line, Draisaitl’s line and then the bottom six. Note that the 10 minutes that McDavid has played with Draisaitl is excluded in the table below. And note that the duo has outscored opponents 4-0 in that short span, posting a Corsi For% of 54.17% and an Expected Goals For% of 71.36%. Wild.
The Oilers need to expect more from their bottom six and on both ends of the ice, and the results aren’t going to get better until they make some tactical adjustments. The group is struggling to generate shots, averaging only 19 shots per hour and allowing 37. For context, the league average rate of shots for and the average rate of shots against is 30.7 over the last three seasons. The Oilers can try to find a way to solve their 2.58% shooting percentage, but it won’t matter if the team barely has control of the puck.
This needs to be addressed by the coaching staff and fast, especially in a condensed season. The reality is that the teams the Oilers are competing against for a playoff spot in the North division appear to have things figured out and are benefiting from having a competent bottom six.
Let’s start with Toronto. They’re currently second in the division and have a deep roster on paper with high end talent carrying the top two lines.
Similar to the Oilers, the Leafs bottom six has played about just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, but have only posted a -1 goal differential. The bottom-six group’s on-ice shot-share numbers aren’t great - the team obviously sees a boost when Matthews or Tavares’ line is playing - but they’re significantly better than what the Oilers bottom six has posted. They are having trouble generating shots, a rate of 24 per hour, but they’re also doing a job suppressing shots, allowing 24 per hour. Again, the league average rate of shots for and against is 30.7 over the last three seasons.
Winnipeg’s bottom six is similar in that they’ve played just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, and have a -1 goal differential. The Jets currently rank third in the division with a 0.667 points percentage, but second in terms of goal differential with +5.
The Jets definitely have some work to do when it comes to their share of scoring chances (that Scheifele line might be a spot of bother for the coaching staff), but the bottom six is at least generating and allowing league average rates of shots and are performing much better than the Oilers bottom six. Adding Dubois should give their top lines a boost, so it’ll be interesting to see what other line-up adjustments are made that could benefit their third and fourth lines. Similar to the Leafs, their bottom six might not be generating a lot, and they don’t necessarily need to for their team to be successful. But at least they’re doing a reasonable job suppressing shots and chances against and not giving up the gains made by the top forwards.
Montreal’s bottom six has been outstanding at this point and a big reason why they rank first in the division with a 0.833 points percentage and a +11 goal differential. They’ve played about 45% of the team’s total ice time at even-strength, outscoring opponents 8-3. While they might not be able to sustain a PDO of 106.7, they are doing everything they can to be successful, controlling the flow of play (Corsi For% of 59.35%) and the share of scoring chances (Expected Goals For% of 58.41%).
Not even sure we should be calling them the Canadiens bottom six - they’re running more of a top nine with the likes of Toffoli and Kotkaniemi marked on the third line. Must be a nice perk for the higher-end forwards to know that they can take a break and not watch their team play in their own zone the whole time.
Hopefully the Oilers coaching staff can figure things out in terms of tactics and deployment, and get some reasonable production from the forwards. Remember - the bottom six was an area of focus for management this past off-season, as the Oilers were outscored badly in 2019/20 without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. While the bottom six posted a 47.73% Corsi For% and a 48.22% Expected Goals For% last season, they were outscored badly (44 GF, 73 GA, a -29 goal differential), which translates to a 37.61% goal-share. The bar isn’t even that high for this year’s group of bottom six forwards, and it would reflect poorly on the management and coaching staff if they couldn’t surpass that level.