The Edmonton Oilers forwards and the possession war

Jonathan Willis
November 25 2013 10:14AM

It’s no secret that the Oilers have been losing a lot of games, and those struggles are reflected in the possession numbers of their forwards. Some – people like David Perron and Jordan Eberle – have done relatively well despite the team around them. Others have floundered badly, and some of the names on that list are extremely surprising.

The Chart

I’ll briefly explain the statistics above, all calculated using five-on-five data collected from ExtraSkater.com.

  • Corsi/60 is the total of all shot attempts for minus all shot attempts against when a player is on the ice, divided into average 60-minute chunks. So in David Perron’s case, in an average hour with him on the ice the opposition averages one shot attempt more against the Oilers than the Oilers manage.
  • On-ice SH% is the percent of shots the Oilers take that go in the net with a given player on the ice. So Jordan Eberle’s 10.3 percent isn’t his personal number; it’s his number plus that of all of his teammates when he’s on the ice.
  • On-ice SV% is the same as shooting percentage, except of course that this time it’s goalie performance with a given player on the ice.
  • PDO is the combination of shooting and save percentage, and typically regresses to 100 (though it tends to be a little higher for skilled players and a little lower for fourth-liners).
  • ZoneStart is the percentage of non-neutral zone shifts started in the offensive zone. Here Nail Yakupov’s 68.8 percent means he starts two shifts in the offensive zone for every defensive zone shift he starts.
  • QualComp is each player’s rank among forwards in ExtraSkater’s quality of competition ranking (based on the average TOI of the opposition players each Oilers forward has seen.

Highlights and Lowlights

Taylor Hall has been a Corsi beast for years; this season the Oilers are getting killed with him on the ice. He’s taking on the toughest matchups but clearly needs some help. Interestingly both he and Ales Hemsky have significantly better numbers when they play away from each other.

Jordan Eberle and David Perron are unsurprisingly doing quite well by these numbers, but so too are Mark Arcobello and Ryan Smyth. Arcobello, of course, has been a healthy scratch recently this season and never even got a chance last season because he’s seen as too small for a fourth-line job, while Smyth was given up for dead by many portions of the fanbase. Both guys look like solid contributors here.

Poor, poor Boyd Gordon. Not only is he facing a brutal zone start (he gets more than four defensive zone shifts for every offensive zone draw he takes) but the goalies aren’t making saves (0.865 save percentage) when he’s on the ice. His numbers here are pretty good given the context.

Less good: Dallas Eakins’ physical fourth line. The duo of Will Acton and Luke Gazdic are getting lit up by the opposition; thus far the Oilers have gotten away with it because the goalie has been making saves with that duo on the ice (0.959 save percentage for Acton, 0.982 for Gazdic) but eventually that will stop and these two will get shown for what they are. It’s particularly galling given that they’re playing terrible opponents and getting lots of time in the offensive zone.

An interesting contrast to Acton and Gazdic are Ryan Jones and Ben Eager. Jones and Eager seem less willing to provide the physical play that a guy like Gazdic does, but they’ve done a much better job (in tougher minutes, too) of not letting the opposition ragdoll them in the shots column.

Another unsurprising find: Nail Yakupov and Sam Gagner are struggling here. Yakupov's problems in the early season are well-documented, and his Corsi numbers bear it out (and are more damning given the minutes he's playing), while Gagner has of course been problematic since coming back from a pre-season injury.

What else stands out here?

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 They're $hittie
November 25 2013, 10:26AM
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This team sucks. Lots to like though. Replace N Schultz, Potter, Larsen, Grebeshkov with Ekblad, Nurse, Klefbom, Fedun.

Let them develop next season in the NHL and get there feet wet. That way everyone is ready when McDavid joins the oilers.

Play off run in 2016.

LOL

here come the trashes.

Oilers fans this is our fault for continuously buying merchandise, and going to games, and giving away generous arena deals, and not holding the organization accountable for an inferior product.

What do you do when you buy a faulty inferior piece of electronics. You take it back and demand a refund.

Over under on Trashes +36.

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#2 Nj
November 25 2013, 10:21AM
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Fist we need to plat defense.

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#3 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 11:12AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Absolutely. You can hit the other team a lot when they always have the puck, just like you can block shots a lot when the other team always has the puck.

I like a team that plays a physical game, but not at the expense of puck possession (which is my issue with an Acton/Gazdic style fourth line).

And not all hits are alike. A Clutterbuck hit is very different from a Hemsky hit. The former can have a very positive influence on his teams morale, whereas a laughably weak hit courtesy of Hemsky can have the opposite effect.

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#4 Spydyr
November 25 2013, 11:10AM
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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

- Mark Twain

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#5 Oilerz4life
November 25 2013, 11:09AM
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Stats mean nothing. At least we've seen a glimmer of hope lately that the Oilers are on the right track. It may take longer than hoped for, but at least Mac T is willing to make trades. Eventually we will get it together. Remember, we're not a big market club like down in the states. We'll get there, you can pack up your stats and put them in your file cabinet. Its just a bunch of boring garble. Most of those stats represent when the Oilers were riddled with injury, so they're misleading and arent worth the paper they're printed on.

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#6 loweblows
November 25 2013, 10:28AM
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I have been wailing incessantly since Arco has been pulled out of the lineup!!!! I live in Calgary and the monkeys at the zoo would be able to figure out that Arco should be in the lineup. What is wrong with this picture??? I don't get it. You need heavies on the 4th but certainly you don't need 3 do you? Give your head a shake Eakins.

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#7 rob
November 25 2013, 10:46AM
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Hey J.W,here are some numbers for you,we are 3-0 and in that run we have outshot,out hit scored on the powerplay and cycled the puck well.who would have thought a winning team could be done with HARDWORK rather than looking at fancy numbers to tell us we suck!when the oilers shoot,hit and cycle they are successfull,when they chase and get pushed around they are not!

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#8 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 11:01AM
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rob wrote:

Did not help those 3 teams that they were playing the 29th place team did it?

Boy you sure know how to completely miss a point. The ability of EDM is irrelevent for the purposes of the argument I'm making.

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#9 Spydyr
November 25 2013, 11:30AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Gosh, if only there was some way to know what Mark Twain was say... WHAT'S THAT THERE IS???

Damn it Mark Twain, you mean you were using statistics yourself when you made that comment! Ugh, well, you were just quoting some guy who... was the President of the Royal Statistical Society?!?!?

Well, then. I guess that little quip doesn't remotely mean what you think it means.

The only stat that really matters are wins and losses.

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#10 Joel
November 25 2013, 01:40PM
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How much weight do people put on these moneyball stats? Too many intangibles in Hockey to make them very important. Examples did the other team bring their A game , who was playing that night, who was injured, was it back to back games, hot goalies, bad luck, when they got on the ice.

I personally think that these type of stats are useful once you made a decision only to confirm what you already thought.

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#13 rob
November 25 2013, 10:56AM
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Serious Gord wrote:

Didn't hurt that they played the 25th, 26th and 28th best teams in the league. Against average or better teams they may have far less success even with "HARDWORK".

Did not help those 3 teams that they were playing the 29th place team did it?

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#14 Reg Dunlop
November 25 2013, 11:30AM
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Oilerz4life wrote:

Stats mean nothing. At least we've seen a glimmer of hope lately that the Oilers are on the right track. It may take longer than hoped for, but at least Mac T is willing to make trades. Eventually we will get it together. Remember, we're not a big market club like down in the states. We'll get there, you can pack up your stats and put them in your file cabinet. Its just a bunch of boring garble. Most of those stats represent when the Oilers were riddled with injury, so they're misleading and arent worth the paper they're printed on.

Stats mean nothing? Not worth the paper they're printed on? First off, this internet thing is largely paperless, so...

Secondly, as the Corsi indicates, Smyth has looked like a solid contributor. While everyone with eyesight thought Smyth was done, stats say he has been solid. Is Corsi a reference to ex-oil goalie Jim Corsi? They both are/were of very limited use. Smyth is so done that he would be just as valuable if he took off the skates and played in his boots like a hockey Dad coaching mini-mites.

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#15 Jake
November 25 2013, 12:13PM
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rob wrote:

Hey J.W,here are some numbers for you,we are 3-0 and in that run we have outshot,out hit scored on the powerplay and cycled the puck well.who would have thought a winning team could be done with HARDWORK rather than looking at fancy numbers to tell us we suck!when the oilers shoot,hit and cycle they are successfull,when they chase and get pushed around they are not!

The Oilers were outhit 45-19 by Columbus in the 7-0 game.

http://www.nhl.com/gamecenter/en/boxscore?id=2013020319

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#16 gcw_rocks
November 25 2013, 03:02PM
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Gagner's struggles aren't anything new. In his 8th season, if he hasn't gotten it by now, he won't. Time to shift him to the wing where the defensive responsibilities are less so his offensive gifts can shine without the taint of his weak defensive play in the middle.

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#17 Bubslub
November 25 2013, 10:29AM
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I have heard MacT and the organization are big believers/followers of analytics but is Eakins? Given a lot of the suspect coaching so far I think not. Do you know JW?

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#18 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 10:50AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I'm really not convinced that 'lots of rookies!' is the answer to 'what fixes Edmonton's blue line problems?'

true, but that seems to be the plan of attack:

miss the playoffs this year, probably miss next year, then make the playoffs in 15-16 and contend in 16-17. The problem is that by then there will be RFA issues all over the place...

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#19 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 11:03AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Actually Rob, the Oilers have been at or near the league lead in road hits all season (I say road hits because counting bias makes home RTSS stats difficult to use).

Of note: the Oilers' Corsi has really turned around the last three games, which seems to coincide with Dallas Eakins switching back to a more aggressive puck-pursuit game.

and they were at the top in hits because they didn't very often have the puck...

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#21 TigerUnderGlass
November 25 2013, 01:54PM
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@Joel

Crazy stats nerds, always trying to judge a player's value based on a single game.

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#22 Cynic
November 25 2013, 05:37PM
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The most surprising thing about nerdstats is that the squinty-eyed weasel Stapes gets paid to peddle the narrative he builds off them. It's just a feel-gooe exercise for Oiler fan to distract from the fact that you're paying $100 a ticket to watch a gargabe franchise trot out a collection of garbage players. e

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#24 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 10:47AM
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Thanks for the stats - lots to chew on, little of it good.

Hall definitely has some 'splainin' to do. As does gagner especially when you consider that he wasn't playing during many of the very worst early games.

Is there anyone who can explain why acton is playing and acrobello is not, other than it is flat out nepotism?

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#25 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 10:54AM
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rob wrote:

Hey J.W,here are some numbers for you,we are 3-0 and in that run we have outshot,out hit scored on the powerplay and cycled the puck well.who would have thought a winning team could be done with HARDWORK rather than looking at fancy numbers to tell us we suck!when the oilers shoot,hit and cycle they are successfull,when they chase and get pushed around they are not!

Didn't hurt that they played the 25th, 26th and 28th best teams in the league. Against average or better teams they may have far less success even with "HARDWORK".

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#26 They're $hittie
November 25 2013, 10:58AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I'm really not convinced that 'lots of rookies!' is the answer to 'what fixes Edmonton's blue line problems?'

I agree, I do think they will be an upgrade on the number 4 - 7 though. My comments went on why I thought we should do this. And that is so we get McJesus.

The losing doesnt look like it will stop anytime soon so we might as well get a shiny new toy to tide us over.

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#28 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
November 25 2013, 11:12AM
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A 1-2 punch of Nuge and McDavid would have me giddy. Whichever team gets the 1st overall next year is never going to let that pick go, though. It's a catch 22: I'm hoping we finish at least out of the bottom 5 next year, but then we miss out on the McDavid express.

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#29 rob
November 25 2013, 11:12AM
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GDP-Oilers win 6-3,and get another standing O from Rexall!Perron with the hatty and Hall,Ebs and Smyth score the others.

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#30 pkam
November 25 2013, 11:17AM
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@JW

Despite the poor Corsi number at ES, the interesting thing is Acton, Gazdic, Jones, and Eager are all positive in the +/-.

In other words, they are badly outshot yet they outscored their opponents.

Any explanation to this strange but interesting phenomenon?

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#31 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
November 25 2013, 11:33AM
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@pkam

This is true. Now I'm thinking it's Dubey bringing his A game when he sees those four on the ice. I know I'd be a little more on edge with those guys playing in front of me.

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#32 S cottV
November 25 2013, 11:35AM
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Confirms that our top 2 centremen are getting eaten by top 2 opposition lines. Hopkins in over head for now, but will probably get better, as he fills out - gets stronger and gains more experience. Gagner probably skewed by injury recovery and limited minutes in the sampling, but - he is not quite big enough in the 2nd centre rotation. Both are struggling to score which reflects in finish numbers for themselves and those that they play with. Both lack strengh and presence to carry the play more in the offensive zone, so they are getting scored on - more than scoring. Without domination in the middle on the top 2 lines, particularly difficult for high end wingers to get going. May get better with RNH maturity and Gagner's full injury recovery. In the meantime, Gordon being made to pay for some of this imbalance in the middle. Starts in own zone reflective of lack of zone play by top 2 lines and lack of confidence in RNH and Gagner to win faceoffs and handle the heavy go in the d zone. RNH really struggles in his own zone and it is unfortunate that he has to learn to handle it vs top 3 opposition forwards. Made worse by a lack of legit top 2 defencemen to support him. Belov (not bad) and J Schultz (scary while he goes thru his own learning curve) is certainly not an ideal compliment. The lack of dominate presence in the middle and dominate presence in the back end - makes for a tough go re any real progress for these stats. Otherwise - we play way more in the other teams zone and all these numbers follow suit for the better.

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#33 Spoils
November 25 2013, 12:30PM
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Joensuu's numbers are terrible. He was great in the preseason. I wonder if he can get back to that.

Sidebar - I'd really like to see Arco back.

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#34 K_Mart
November 25 2013, 12:41PM
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JW said it best when he attributed Hall's poor corsi to the matchups. For much of the season Eakins was putting hall out against the opposition's top players by choice.

The last bit has been nice to see Gordon, Perron, and Smytty used as the shutdown line. Those guys are sick!! hope they can do it against a real opponent like Chicago.

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#35 curcro
November 25 2013, 12:53PM
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When selecting Team Canada it is interesting that management can choose from all the best NHLers to fill out their 4th line. Yet the players they choose are all skill players...

odd... no emphasis on grit.

#freearco

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#36 The Oilers Shot Clock
November 25 2013, 01:38PM
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curcro wrote:

When selecting Team Canada it is interesting that management can choose from all the best NHLers to fill out their 4th line. Yet the players they choose are all skill players...

odd... no emphasis on grit.

#freearco

Canada has a long history of putting their favorite mucker at the time on the team. Draper, Peca and Zamuner have all been on Olympic teams.

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#37 wigswag
November 25 2013, 01:53PM
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@curcro

We don't know that yet. Could be Lucic and/or Ladd on 4th line.

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#38 MessyEH!
November 25 2013, 02:44PM
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Could the Oilers be deliberately tanking Acro's season to get a value contract? Or are they just destroying another asset?

For the record NHL07 supports my theory of 4 scoring lines will destroy anyteams forth line goons.

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#39 BleedingOil
November 25 2013, 10:30AM
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oh if I could take this line from the above stat explanations and go back in time a few threads ago. See pkham, SV% IS truly a Goalie stat.

On-ice SV% is the same as shooting percentage, except f course that this time it’s goalie performance.

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#40 Romulus' Apotheosis
November 25 2013, 10:54AM
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"What else stands out here?"

One thing most have been looking for is the performance of the players who were essentially the 2line last year (esp. Gagner and Hemsky).

Gagner 5x5 CF%: 11-12 (Renney): 0.489 12-13 (RK): 0.431 13-14 (Eakins): 0.458

Hemsky 5x5 CF%: 11-12 (Renney): 0.504 12-13 (RK): 0.441 13-14 (Eakins): 0.480

Neither are back to Renney levels and Gagner still has a long way to go (injury, early return and small sample size probably explains part of it), but both are clear of RK levels so far. That's a good sign.

Yakupov has also improved from 42.5% CF 5x5 to 45.7.

It is worth noting this improvement.

I also think the sample size is probably too small on Eager to draw any conclusions.

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#41 Jon
November 25 2013, 10:54AM
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In regards to the high on-ice SV% of Acton and Gazdic, isn't that something that's prevalent year to year with fighter/physical 4th liners? I remember George Parros for example always having sky high SV% numbers when he was with Anaheim. Shawn Thornton is another example of a 4th liner...Brian McGrattan. I'm not sure why when a guy bleeds shots against their goalie tends to play better. But it definitely looks like there's some sort of trend there just by looking at the numbers for those types of guys. Any thoughts on that?

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#42 Jon
November 25 2013, 10:55AM
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In regards to the high on-ice SV% of Acton and Gazdic, isn't that something that's prevalent year to year with fighter/physical 4th liners?

I remember George Parros for example always having sky high SV% numbers when he was with Anaheim. Shawn Thornton is another example of a 4th liner...Brian McGrattan. I'm not sure why when a guy bleeds shots against their goalie tends to play better. But it definitely looks like there's some sort of trend there just by looking at the numbers for those types of guys. Any thoughts on that?

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#44 justDOit
November 25 2013, 11:01AM
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Bubslub wrote:

I have heard MacT and the organization are big believers/followers of analytics but is Eakins? Given a lot of the suspect coaching so far I think not. Do you know JW?

Early in the season, Eakins was asked this in a presser. He replied that he does indeed look at the adv stats, but he makes decisions based on the coaching staff's impressions as well as the stats - not too much emphasis on either.

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#45 justDOit
November 25 2013, 11:02AM
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rob wrote:

Did not help those 3 teams that they were playing the 29th place team did it?

And that they got spanked by that 29th place team. SPANKED!

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#48 **
November 25 2013, 11:16AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Would Arcobello be an effective 4th liner, or would he be better in the second line centre with Gagner on the wing, Yakupov on the other and Ryan Smyth on the 4th line with Hemsky taking his spot with Gordon and Perron and rotating Joenssu, GAzdic and Jones?, would the Oilers be a better team this way?

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#49 **
November 25 2013, 11:17AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Actually Rob, the Oilers have been at or near the league lead in road hits all season (I say road hits because counting bias makes home RTSS stats difficult to use).

Of note: the Oilers' Corsi has really turned around the last three games, which seems to coincide with Dallas Eakins switching back to a more aggressive puck-pursuit game.

I seem to remember a previous thread where you made the point that if a team has a lot of hits, it's probably because they are chasing the puck a lot, which is not good for possession and scoring chances. I agree with this.

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#50 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
November 25 2013, 11:20AM
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@pkam

I'd say inferior competition, as JW mentioned above.

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