The Oilers are better than their record of late – and Craig MacTavish knows it

Jonathan Willis
April 17 2013 12:21AM

The Oilers have lost six straight games. Tuesday night’s contest against Minnesota was the first time they managed to score more than a single goal during a game in that span. They have been out-shot and out-chanced in all six contests.

Despite that, they’re a better team than six consecutive losses would indicate.

The Chart

The chart above shows goals (in blue) and shots (in red) over six game segments of the season. Both are expressed in percentages; so for example, if the Oilers win a game 3-2 they would be at 60 percent on the chart (having scored 60 percent of the goals). Fifty percent, obviously, is break-even; anything below that bad, anything above it good.

Over the first five six-game segments, the goal and shot ratios are pretty closely harmonized, with both the goals and shots average hanging around the 45 percent mark (meaning the opposition would score, on average, 55 of every 100 goals and fire 55 of every 100 shots). The goal number bounced around the shot number, but that’s the general rule of thumb.

Over the last two segments, we’ve seen some funny stuff – stuff that shows exactly why it’s smarter to base assumptions on shot rates rather than goal rates.

In segment six, the Oilers’ shot rates improved very slightly, going from an average of 45.3 percent through the first five segments to 46.4 percent over those six games. Their goal totals jumped through the roof (with the Oilers scoring just under every three out of four goals), though, as the team made a high percentage of their shots. The team won five straight games – but it was painfully obvious that the team was riding a lucky streak, and that nothing had changed, despite Kevin Lowe’s comments to the contrary.

But that brings us to segment seven. The Oilers’ shot rates have dropped significantly, going from an average of 45.5 percent through the first six segments down to just 42.7 percent over the last six contests. But again, the goal drop-off has been far more pronounced – the Oilers are being out-scored 3-1 on average by their opposition. They’ve lost six straight, but just as the run of five consecutive wins coincided with a fortunate streak, so this run of losses coincides with an unfortunate streak.

Decision Making

Enter Craig MacTavish, the new general manager of the Oilers, who actually understands everything that’s been presented on the charts above. The following quote comes from an interview with HNIC Radio, and I’ve borrowed Tyler Dellow’s transcription of it:

Even within the five game winning streak, a lot of games we get outshot. The shot differential in the game is quite significant for our club. It was a great run that we were on but I was never really under the illusion that we were a team that could put together that stretch nor did I think we’d lose four or five in a row here the last little while. It’s really a reflection of where we are. It’s not a set of specific circumstances that occurred over the last week that stopped us from winning five games in a row to losing five games in a row. Over that period of time we’ve probably been a .500 team and that’s where we are over the last ten games.

The only place I disagree is on the 0.500 comment – these Oilers have hovered around the 0.450 mark in shots since around the 10-game mark of the year and in scoring chances since around the 25-game mark, and that’s where I’d put the “true talent level” of this group (that’s also the range they were in over the 10-game period MacTavish was specifying).

But the bigger point here is that MacTavish isn’t getting blinded by the ups and downs over the course of a season. Teams will win more than they deserve to over short stretches of time, or lose more than they deserve to over short stretches of time; what really matters is the underlying shot and scoring chance data – because that shows the true talent level of the team.

In just under five years at the helm I can’t recall Steve Tambellini ever talking about this stuff, the stuff that really matters. It took Craig MacTavish one day.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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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#51 Lochenzo
April 17 2013, 12:14PM
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Regarding advanced stats...didn't you guys watch Moneyball!!

I think advanced stats would better identify what certain guys on this team are doing right and from there, identify who would be a good compliment for Hall, RNH, Eberle, J Schultz, Yak. Some of the guys we have now are not ideal complements.

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#52 John
April 17 2013, 12:33PM
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madjam wrote:

Apparantly MacT. was the most instrumental person in getting Hall and Eberle to sign on for one extra year on their contracts - cudos . He followed that up by being most instrumental in signing J.Schultz . These 3 look to be a lock going forward . Yakupov just keeps getting better and should be safe , but Hopkins may not have enough grit to remain , and he is no Gretzky to be honest . Most of others on the bubble and upgrades might be found to fix size and grit inferiority .

I'm sure Mact. recognizes when Veterans start losing that competitive edge . and will bring in others that will fill their vacancies far more competently than previous GM . MacT. is there for change , and i suspect if he does not do a good job he will resign before being forced out(just like coaching ) - such seems to be his nature .

Where are you getting this information from? I am not saying it is wrong, just wondering. I mean Schultz has been interviewed on multiple occassions and has never mentioned MacT once as far as I have heard. He said that Kreuger was the most important part and a one on one with Taylor Hall was the next biggest influence. I have only heard Lowe saying that MacT was a major influence on that signing. Not to say that he didn't do anything, just wondering what your basing your information on.

I think too many people are giving up on Hopkins. Everyone wants to let players go when they are having bad years. Hopkins was a strong force last year and the fact that he is only 20 should allow us to be patient with him. If you trade him your only going to lose that trade. Do I think he's Gretzky? No, of course not but if he ends up being anything even close to resembling Datsyuk, everyone will be happy. You just have to wait for him to mature more.

The problem with your statement about MacT resigning if he isn't the answer is that by then it will be too late. We will have gone through this horrible stretch of 20 years for nothing. I am not saying MacT will suck as GM, no one really knows that for sure, but if the management group is wrong again, then this will be the end of the rebuild before it ever began.

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#53 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 17 2013, 01:02PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Just to be clear: I don't think you need to use advanced statistics to be a good general manager.

My only point was that the decisions Tambellini was making on observation were refuted by advanced statistics, and the team would have been better off using the latter than the former.

A better observer might come to the same conclusions by eye as the statistics did; a better observer still might outpace statistics on the whole and certainly can in individual cases.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't care how any team arrives at the right conclusions, as long as they do so, and over Tambellini's tenure the results of decision-making trailed what a good stats-based analysis would have advised.

I'm not a big stats guy, but I understand its importance. I just feel there needs to be a balance in tactics when evaluating players, games and shifts. Hockey has a side that can't be measured by stats (emotion, try, want, desire, energy, good or bad bounces, lucky shirt), but, I understand math, at least I think I do, and its ability to clarify certain things.

All that aside, I believe you make a very valid, fair and balanced point. But, I'm sure you know that.

PS I burnt my lucky shirt yesterday. Apparently it wasn't that lucky....

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#54 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 17 2013, 01:15PM
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Going forward I would like to see the young guys used in all situations. Top minutes for guys like Lander, Hartikianen and Peckham.

Even just a minute for Peckham, at least....

I would also like to see a few young guns from OKC called up for a game or two. Cornet, Rajala, Hamilton, Fedun and Pitlick. Give them a taste. I don't think it would hurt their development. It might even help.

It sure as sh*t isn't gonna hurt the chances for a playoff spot.

Lucky shirt my a**!

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#55 Dog Train
April 17 2013, 02:07PM
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Nice to see Mactavish took a more level-headed approach to our 5 game winning streak than Lowe did with his "even our hardest critics thought we arrived after the 8-2 win over Calgary" bit. I am more upset with the fact that we still get outplayed every game then I am with what our win-loss record is right now. If there was visible on-ice progress, then I could live with it. We still look lost out there.

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#56 RexLibris
April 17 2013, 02:14PM
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If this has been touched on in comments already, my apologies.

While I have reservations about Lowe, MacTavish and Howson together in the management ranks, much of this revolves around Howson and Lowe.

My willingness to give MacTavish some leeway in this job comes back to a comment he made in his last season as coach here.

If I recall correctly, the Oilers started the season on a 4-1 win/loss record. None of the wins were particularly inspiring and MacTavish said in an interview that he wasn't happy with the way they were winning. That comment, from a coach, said a lot to me about how he saw the game. The wins were there, but they could just as easily not have been because the team was getting lucky.

I live in hope that he has built upon that skeptical perspective he had back then.

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#57 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 17 2013, 02:39PM
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@RexLibris

Interesting insight.

I think there were two or three games in the 5 game win streak that could've just as easily been lost. So, I get what he was saying.

There really needs to be a better effort. Plain and simple. Win or lose.

I think Mac-T is a smart cat. I choose to reserve my judgement on him until after the summer, however. And, beyond for that matter. This summer should give us a good indication of what he will bring to the table.

All and all this whole thing doesnt disappoint me.

This just in: Oil sign Yale Captain Andrew Miller to a one year ELC.

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#58 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 17 2013, 02:44PM
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Mac-T's first move.

Andrew Miller 5' 10", buck 80, and a forward.

Captained Yale to the championship this year.

34-7-29-36 8 PIM

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#59 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 17 2013, 02:47PM
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Hockey Futures:

Andrew Miller – Yale

The Yale captain scored the game-winning overtime goal in the semi-final game against UMass Lowell, sending the Bulldogs to their first-ever appearance in a National Championship game. Miller also figured into Yale’s first goal of the semi-final game, assisting on a slapshot from defenseman Mitch Witek. The 24-year-old saved some magic for the championship game, when at the 9:06 mark into the third period, he put Yale up 3-0, securing their first ever NCAA Championship. For good measure, Miller would also assist on Jesse Root’s empty net goal at the end of the game, giving him two goals, two assists, and nine shots in the tournament. His four points were the most by any player at the event. A senior, Miller finished his career at Yale as the school’s all-time leader in assists with 114 in 141 games.

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#60 TeddyTurnbuckle
April 17 2013, 03:54PM
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I agree. At the end of the day we get outshot badly every game and are sitting 29th or 30th in that category. Until we start out shooting opponents consistently we haven't improved. End of story. Hope we are drafting a true #2 center this summer.

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#61 GVBlackhawk
April 17 2013, 04:06PM
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Lochenzo wrote:

Regarding advanced stats...didn't you guys watch Moneyball!!

I think advanced stats would better identify what certain guys on this team are doing right and from there, identify who would be a good compliment for Hall, RNH, Eberle, J Schultz, Yak. Some of the guys we have now are not ideal complements.

It is pretty amazing what Oakland has accomplished with its low operating budget. They always field a competitive team (and are already off to another great start this year).

They got rid of the old-school scouting method and now rely exclusively on advanced stats to get bang for their buck.

The stats approach removes human emotion from the analytical equation...and it seems to work quite well. 'Intangible qualities' are often over-rated by scouts and fans.

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#62 David S
April 17 2013, 08:43PM
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TeddyTurnbuckle wrote:

I agree. At the end of the day we get outshot badly every game and are sitting 29th or 30th in that category. Until we start out shooting opponents consistently we haven't improved. End of story. Hope we are drafting a true #2 center this summer.

Even if we DO draft "a true #2 center this summer", that magical draft pick will take 2-3 years to develop into the player you so dearly covet.

This team doesn't have that sort of time. What you're proposing is Infinibuild™, moping along until one day "Bam. Stanley Cup!".

Patience is done. Process is done. That was what got Tambellini canned. We're going to see some major shifts this summer. I'm quite sure alot of people here aren't going to like some of the fallout. Hemsky is almost surely gone and possibly even Eberle.

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#63 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 17 2013, 10:56PM
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@David S

MacTavish just admitted there's really not much for NHL players behind the kids in this lineup. This is the kind of support he was talking about. Do you want Smytty,Horcoff,Belanger,Hemsky,Gagner,Whitney yada yada yada, to hang around till they grow even older and slower?

Deadwood out, new blood in. Like it or not, time is all the Oilers have on their side right now. I don't care if it's MacKinnon, get him in here now getting use to the speed of the NHL game. A rookie is still better than that tired bunch I just mentioned. Progressing is always better than regressing. This team isn't just a Steve Ott, or a Ryane Clowe away from being a contender. The plan from day 1 was to rebuild/grow from within, why can't you understand this?

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#64 Supernova
April 17 2013, 11:28PM
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The Beaker wrote:

So you are saying "well its hard to find guys that would actually solve a problem so why dont we find the most shiny guy who is kind of relevant and throw assets that teams way to get him"

I say they do the hard work and try and find players that they can do this with. Trying to pick the lowest lying fruit and looks good isnt a solution to the problem.

I asked for a suggestion of who is available.

It is easy to attack and disregard but a lot harder to come up with a solution.

What's your solution? Name names so we could have a discussion

Why is Yandle the lowest lying fruit? The most mentioned yes. But hardly lowest lying.

That refers to the easiest to reach.

Bring some names if your a solution thinker.

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#65 The Beaker
April 18 2013, 07:05AM
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Supernova wrote:

I asked for a suggestion of who is available.

It is easy to attack and disregard but a lot harder to come up with a solution.

What's your solution? Name names so we could have a discussion

Why is Yandle the lowest lying fruit? The most mentioned yes. But hardly lowest lying.

That refers to the easiest to reach.

Bring some names if your a solution thinker.

Exactly, the easiest reach. Out of Dman who have some sort of name value around the league he really is probably the easiest reach.

We need someone who can play big minutes, get the puck moving up the ice and specialize in at least one of PP or PK.

As for other names? Ill think on it but generally have been too busy to go scour rosters looking for solutions for the edmonton oilers. They have a new GM for. All ive said is Yandle isnt the type that should be our first priority. I would love to have him if we find another guy who meets the criteria we made above. Everything I've heard lately about Yandle points to him NOT being a first pairing guy.

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