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

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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  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    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.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        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?