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Goal goals

“All you’ve got to do is look at the goal differential at five-on-five for the real legit teams. That’s the analytics that I look at. “ - Ken Holland (Source: The Athletic)

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NHL: New York Rangers at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

While the overall results have been excellent, one area for concern is the Oilers goal-differential at even-strength (5v5) - a metric that Ken Holland referenced as his go-to “analytic” this past summer (Source: The Athletic).

After 11 games, the Oilers have just barely outscored opponents 25-24, a goal-share of 51.02 that ranks 16th in the league and fifth in the Pacific behind the Calgary, Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose. And it’s really been on the defensive side of the game where they’re having issues as the club is scoring the fifth highest rate of goals per hour in the league (2.80), but allowing the seventh higher rate of goals against (2.69).

The Oilers goaltending currently ranks 23rd in the league at even-strength (5v5) with a 91.86% team save percentage, which is only better than Seattle in the Pacific. One issue is how much offence they’re giving up, allowing the seventh highest rate of shots against per hour (32.3) in the league and the tenth highest rate of expected goals against per hour (2.50) (note that both metrics have been score and venue adjusted to reflect how much time the Oilers have spent playing with a lead).

It’s likely a spot of bother for management and the coaching staff as they finished with a -16 goal differential at even-strength (5v5) two seasons ago and a -1 goal differential last season.

With McDavid on the ice this season, and the team often controlling the flow of play and outshooting opponents (57.16% Corsi For% and 57.12% Expected Goals For%) the Oilers have outscored opponents 12-9 at even-strength (5v5). Without McDavid, they’ve been outscored 13-15 largely due to the fact that they get outplayed by opponents and spend more time without the puck and in their own zone - as reflected by their 47.44% Corsi For% and 44.34% Expected Goals For%.

When we look at each individual forward and their on-ice shot differential, expected goal differential and goa differential, we see how it’s once again the depth forwards that are allowing more goals than they’re scoring. That has to be frustrating for a front office that has spent so many assets over the last few seasons to address their even-strength (5v5) issues.

Below are each forwards on-ice shot differential, expected goal differential and goal differential at even-strength (5v5) this season, ranked by their on-ice goal-differential. I’ve applied a basic heatmap to each metric to show how each player compares in relation to their teammates.

In terms of actual results (i.e., goal differential) it’s the depth forwards that Holland himself either acquired or re-signed that are currently having issues including Foegele, Ryan, Kassian, Shore and Turris. What’s especially concerning is that these players are also allowing more shots and chances than they’re generating, which doesn’t give a lot of confidence that their on-ice results will improve.

It’ll also be interesting to see if Hyman’s numbers improve. He’s been good at driving play, with the team doing a better job of generating shots and chances when he’s on the ice, but the goals haven’t been coming. On the flip side, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl look like their on a bit of a heater, the results of which are masking some of their poor on-ice shot-share metrics. I’d expect their goal-differentials to slide, but perhaps some extended time with someone like Hyman or even Puljujarvi can help them sustain their current results.

Worth highlighting too how the defence core is doing, which is significantly different than last season. Again, the players below are sorted by their on-ice goal differential with a heatmap applied to to each metric to show how each player compares in relation to their teammates.

Really encouraging to see Bouchard have positive results thus far supported by solid on-ice shot-share numbers. And I’d aspect Nurse’s results to improve considering he has McDavid on the ice with him for 55% of his ice-time. Barrie on the other hand, not sure what to say. His poor on-ice shot-share numbers are consistent with his recent seasons, so the Oilers should’ve been aware of this and the fact that he tends to bring down even his best teammates before signing him to a three-year contract this past off-season. Keith and Ceci are posting okay results, but it’s likely to slide considering the Oilers get outshot and outchanced with them on the ice, and they need to have McDavid with them for positive results to occur. And it’s not surprising to see Koekkoek’s poor on-ice numbers considering his performance the last few seasons and the fact he’s spending a lot of time with the depth forwards.

If the Oilers want to have sustainable success, they’ll need to find a way to get better results at even-strength. It’s a recurring issue with their depth players, one that Holland has publicly addressed, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers approach this - either by changing up the line combinations, making a call to Bakersfield or looking at the trade market.

Data: Natural Stat Trick