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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  • Supernova

    With MacT being a long time coach that gives him very good perspective on these things like scoring chances and shot differential.

    Some games the bounces go your way and you have 3 goals on 12 shots but realistically have 1 good scoring chance, other times you are on the opposite end of that.

    The key is to keep generating those game after game so that you are more often on the favourable side of the bounce.

    Tonight was evident that a top pairing D is really our biggest need.

    If we draft a C, we might just see a gagner plus something to Phoenix for Yandle.

    They need a C with offence.

      • Supernova

        Name one that could be available, aside from Yandle.

        These guys are extremely tough to find.

        The other choices which the blogosphere would rip apart would be to trade for a underperforming D.

        Someone like a Cam Fowler.

        Or sign a UFA which there is a dire shortage as well.

        • 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.

          • Supernova

            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.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Tamby and gang thought this team was playoff bound and hence the virtual non-action on trade deadline day. The gist of this article is that MacT knew he had borderline team ie.one that probably wouldn’t make the playoffs. Can I infer then that if MacT had been the GM that he would’ve unloaded a lot of players incl. Whitney, Jones, Khabi, Hemsky?

    • G Money

      I think the idea would be that we’d expect MacT (or any capable GM for that matter) to:

      – have done a better job of identifying and addressing the gaps sooner in the first place,

      – and then if/when things went bad (like losing three centre’s to injury) he would act to shore up the gap instead of letting the team fritter away a bunch of points, and then

      – if the team was still out of the playoffs (and if points 1 & 2 were done with any competence, they probably would be ten points ahead right now, and would be right in it, but if it happened otherwise), then yes he presumably would have unloaded the contract detritus for any reasonable return

  • One thing is for sure. We’re going to learn very quickly how useful or useless Steve Tambellini was. MacTavish will do everything he can to try and improve this team. Whether he can or not may depend on the marketplace which if nothing gets done means Tambi isn’t necessarily to blame. If Mac-T can make changes, it means what many of us were thinking — that Tambi sat on his butt and thought this team was good enough.

    It clearly wasn’t and isn’t.

  • J-Dogg

    I’d be fine with this collection of statistically sub-par games continuing with, oh, say 6 more.

    I hope the players’ self-esteem can handle it, but then, what’s one last punch after a savage beating?