Mood Enhancers

The one thing I’ve been hearing and reading about this team
over and over lately has been how different the club feels under Todd Nelson.
Bob Stauffer and others who get to follow the club more closely than I get to
keep saying it: The team is looser, having more fun.

I don’t doubt for a second that’s true. I don’t. They look
like they’re having fun again. My question is whether the team is getting
better results because they’re more relaxed or if the team is more relaxed
because they’re getting results.

The difference between the two is actually very important
because it speaks to how much influence the head coach has had on the team
since he took over. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg question but considering
Nelson is the interim head coach and may very well earn the fulltime head
coaching duties then I think it’s something the team should consider. 

The Oilers under Nelson are performing worse from a
possession standpoint than they did under Eakins. Under Nelson the team has CF
of 45.3% (25th Overall during that time) and a FF of 43.5% (28th).
Under Eakins the Oilers had a CF of 50.9% (14th) and a FF of 49.6%
(20th). Put another way, they are doing worse under Nelson at spending time in the
offensive zone and in their ratio of unblocked shots. Over a long period of time those things tend to catch up with teams. It’s one of the reasons the Sabres shot ahead of the Oilers in the standings for a short time but have been falling back down. 

Now, in Nelson’s 10 games the Oilers have only played one game
against a team that will definitely finish out of the playoffs (Colorado). Of
the nine other games there were Calgary and the Kings (who are duking it out for
the Wild Card spot in the West), the Panthers (who are battling with games in
hand for the Wild Card spot in the East), and then a murderers row of top
teams. There haven’t been many “easy” games in there. That should absolutely be taken into consideration.

With only 10 games under his belt as the coach it’s too
early to call Nelson out based on those numbers but it’s something to think
about. I recognize that not everybody has bought into the fancy stats but there
is one set of stats that everybody should be comfortable with. The story of
this team, I think, lies in save percentage.

The Coach has very little control over this. There is no
magic system that Nelson is using or that Eakins wasn’t that really affects the
goalie’s ability to make a save. The best they can do is cut down on shots
against or scoring chances against but we’ve already established that isn’t happening
with Edmonton (so far).

Here are the 5v5 Save Percentage numbers under Eakins this
year, under the Nelson/MacT combo, and under Nelson solo:

2014-2015 Oilers Eakins: On Ice sv% 5v5 of .902 (29th over
that period)

2014-2015 Oilers Nelson/MacT: On Ice sv% 5v5 of .868 (30th
over period)

2014-2015 Oilers Nelson Solo: On Ice sv% 5v5 of .918 (13th
over period)

The Oilers started winning and picking up points, not when
they started playing better as a group, but rather when their goaltenders
started delivering just slightly above average performances. It’s been the
story of the season. Dallas Eakins couldn’t buy a save from Ben Scrivens of
Viktor Fasth. MacTavish took the helm for 5 games with Nelson as his squire and
the goalies did even worse.

Happy

Under Nelson the team is winning and loose and the mood is
different. No doubt about it.

I only question how much of that is on Nelson and how much
of that is on Scrivens and Fasth. Nelson has had the benefit of getting the saves where his predecessor did not. There are going to be a lot more happy smiling faces in the dressing room because losing is terrible and the the Oilers were losing because of how their goaltenders were playing.

I hope Nelson makes the most of this opportunity as the Interim, but I am hesitant to pin the turnaround in mood on him when his tenure has coincided with the first stretch all year where the team can reasonably rely on its goaltending.

  • dougtheslug

    Yup all saves are the same. The oilers are giving up all the same grade A chances. Spreadsheet hockey. You don’t even need to watch the games to come to your conclusions.

  • dougtheslug

    Is Nelson doing a better job at making sure his defence doesn’t wander and his player back check. Under Eakins this was an eye sore almost every game. Slot was wide open. If this has been fixed just a little bit than yes, goaltenders should be performing better and yes that very well can be controlled by the coach.

  • camdog

    I’ll be honest. I haven’t bothered to watch an oiler game since early November. I use to love watching hockey but Kim Jong-Lowe has taken that away from me

    • camdog

      I’m with you. Coupled with MacT’s complete ineptitude at assessing defenceman and its felt like a hopeless cause. We will see upticks and down ticks no matter whos the coach but as long as MacT/Howson/Lowe are the decision makers this team ain’t goin nowhere. Incompetence is their forte.

  • camdog

    Struds said the Oilers practices under Eakins were flat and subsequently they came out flat to start the game. He’s been there and done it before so I’d have to say he’s right. Problem I have is how a former coach turned GM didn’t know enough to help mentor his coach out a little in this respect. Everybody can debate the coaching, but the reality is the problem with this team the last 2 years has been the GM.

  • You have to be careful using raw corsi.

    The Oilers under Eakins spent 46% of their even strength time trailing, when teams tend to whack up positive corsi events. In the last ten games, the oilers have only trailed 25% of the time.

    The only situation where the Oilers are playing noticeably worse under Nelson from a corsi perspective is with the score tied. They are playing much better with the lead.

    Situation. Eakins. Nelson.

    Down 2 or more – 54.7 – 56.4

    Down 1 – 53.6 – 52.3

    Tied – 51.2 – 45.3

    Up 1 – 39.9 – 44.4

    Up 2 or more – 36.3 – 36.0

    The sample size for Nelson is still small at ten games, so this could change.

    • camdog

      The only time Corsi should be used as a measurable stat is in the first period before the first goal is scored.

      I used to go to a lot of Eskimos games, sadly missed out this season when they were actually good. Man did Ricky Ray/Kavis Reed rack up some good yards in the second half of games that were already over. They didn’t score many TD’s, but they sure did rack up some good Corsi!

        • camdog

          When the winning team is up by 10 points or 2 goals, in football the winning team will let you eat up clock with inside plays that allow you to inflate your total passing yards. In hockey the winning team will let you carry possession on the perimeter leading to inflated possession numbers. Both can provide an illusion that the game is close, when in fact the winning team was in control of the game from the start.

          • Zarny

            A football team winning by 10+ points will certainly let you eat up clock with inside plays but that isn’t going to allow you to inflate your passing yards. Certainly not deep passes. They’ll let you run all you want or throw 4 yard dishes but that isn’t going to rack up passing yards.

            Time of possession is a much better football equivalent of Corsi.

            And I agree a hockey team that is leading will allow a team to carry possession on the perimeter if we’re talking about 3+ goal leads. Which is why they have developed the Corsi close to eliminate that sort of bias.

            Here is the thing…it doesn’t actually play out that way. Most games don’t have that much of a goal spread and the notion that teams sit back on the lead simply isn’t as true as many like to believe. Just as common is the team trailing folds their tent and quits.

          • Joy S. Lee

            @Zarny

            But teams do sit back – sometimes on one-goal leads. You’ll often hear it from the players themselves, and I seem to hear it referred to often in interviews and game analysis. Methinks there’s some reality to that perception.

  • Zarny

    The title of this article is “mood enhancers” but with your fancy stats you’ve taken the fun out of a win streak. That’s not a mood enhancing article at all.

    Now, going to the goalie stats, they’ve finally reverted to something that actually resembles goaltending, versus being completely abysmal. I’d say there’s a lot of value in that, especially as dramatic a change as it’s been.

    Under Eakins I couldn’t count the number of times (each game) an Oiler lost a battle along the boards in their own end to have the puck passed out to an uncovered forward right in the slot…our goalies would be looking over their shoulder in the corner, watch the pass, then wham, it’s behind them, giving them little chance to make a save. Quality of shots count, and the Oilers have been giving up the best…they may have cut down on overall shots against under Eakins, but they were constantly letting other teams take really good shots.

  • freelancer

    I am torn. On the one hand, if Nelson continues to improve this team I would be okay with keeping him as a head coach. It would be nice to see the team go into training camp next year knowing the system in place. However I want to see a veteran coach who can deal with a full season’s ups and downs. If anything it would be nice to see Nelson stick around as an associate coach.

    • Zarny

      Improve the team from what?

      Eakins and the Oilers went 25-29-7 over the final 61 games last year. Kruegers’ team had the exact same winning % as those 61 games.

      A lot of people seem to be jumping on the “visually they look better” train lately. Virtually every team gets a bounce with a new coach. The Oilers are 4-7-4 since Eakins was fired and 4-4-2 since Nelson started running solo.

      Whoopty f$#@ing doo. Unless this team is 6-7 games above 0.500 hockey over the final 36 games (20-13-3 ish) there is no real improvement.

  • Zarny

    There are many aspects that combine to win hockey games such as possession, shooting and special teams.

    None are more important than goal-tending.

    You can spend a lifetime talking about teams like Tampa Bay, Colorado and Dallas who vaulted up the standings when Bishop, Varlamov and Lehtonen rock a 0.924, 0.928 and 0.919 SV%. Hiller and Ramo stole 5-6 games early in the season despite the Flames being badly out-shot and out-played.

    You can spend another lifetime talking about teams like Colorado and Dallas who drop back to the bottom of the league when their G play like what we’ve seen in Edm the past 2 seasons.

    It’s possible to overcome bad possession, a poor PP or below average shooting and still win games. No team overcomes a 0.895 SV% and wins. The crux of the Oilers’ problems begin at G.

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    The question should be is Nelson using the type of team that has been structured by Mac T and playing the appropriate style?

    Eakins was constantly driving the square peg down the round hole……..Nelson has been using the players in a totally different manner and it shows!

    Gone are the regular benchings for players that do NOT deserve to be benched. We are playing a more up tempo offensive style of game suited to the players we have. Gone are the weird call-ups and demotions that NO one could figure out.

    In other words Eakins thought he was smarter than the whole world and promptly lost the respect of players, fans, and some of the professional writers.

    Props to Nelson for just being normal!

  • ubermiguel

    Anyone catch the Flames/LA game last night? Damn that was an entertaining 3rd period & OT with hits, scrums, hard skating, pressure and crazy goals. This is what these Oilers have reduced me to: enjoying watching the m@#$%^f^&*!@# Flames.

      • The Last Big Bear

        At which point even the HNiC crew had to point out on air that the shot counting was completely out to lunch.

        Even still, the Staples crew tallied 60 Flames shot attempts to the Kings’ 67.

        And the Flames won.

        And have gone 14-3-1 against the Pacific Division so far.

        And are in a playoff spot.

        So there’s that.

      • ubermiguel

        LOL! Yeah, didn’t say the whole game was great, but that 3rd period felt like a playoff game. With that ending it reminded me of this weekend’s Packer/Seahawks game.

        • Zarny

          Yes that is true. And as badly as Calgary was being outplayed you have to give them full-marks for not folding their tent. LA went at them hard and they found a way to win.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Speaking of mood enhancers…

    According to a recent Jonathan Willis article in the Journal, a trade based around Ryan O’Reilly for Justin Schultz “is certainly one the Oilers should investigate”.

    Because, he continues, “O’Reilly plays both the kind of game the Oilers need and would fill a massive positional hole for the club.”

    That’s food for thought. Apparently the Oilers need a player like O’Reilly.

    This also strongly implies that the Avs have a pressing organizational need to get kicked in the balls by the worst managed team in the NHL, although Willis doesn’t name his sources in this regard.

    • freelancer

      Agree that O’Reily would fill a huge need for Edmonton and would be a great addition. However there is a very likely scenario in which he could be playing behind Nugent Hopkins and one of Eichel or McDavid in a couple years. This is a guy who wants to be in a more prominent role. Also any trade for O’Reily would start with someone like Eberle, Schultz would not be the key piece going the other way.

        • The Last Big Bear

          The Avs want D so I have no idea why Schultz’ name is even coming up.

          They also want that D to replace Jan Hejda and/or Brad Stuart, so they’re probably not in the least interested in a rental defenceman who fits in at about #5 on their depth chart (behind Johnson, Hejda, Stuart, and Barrie).

    • freelancer

      Funny you should mention that, because TSN’s Bob McKenzie had an very in-depth article yesterday around O’Reilly and trade options. He indicated Buffalo and Toronto as possible candidates, with Myers being the likely piece going back to Colorado.

      If Willis or anyone thinks O’Reilly for Schultz is a possibility, they must be doing some Jultzing of their own with that thought.

      Sakic and Roy are not idiots to make that kind of trade for Jultz. Now if the three stooges (KLown, Howson, MacT) were in the Avalanche`s shoes…

      • Zarny

        LOL…you’re talking about the same duo that tossed a 2nd rounder for Reta Berra.

        Not idiots?

        The Avs want a D that can skate and move the puck…Schultz can do both. He’s terrible at actually playing defense and being in the right position but that isn’t Col’s focus.

        If the Avs can get Myers though it’s no contest with Schultz. If that deal doesn’t work and they start looking at Gardiner in TO then Schultz starts looking much better.

        • Joy S. Lee

          Interesting. I’d welcome that trade with open arms, which makes me think another piece might be involved, but I’m all for it, nevertheless.

          I’m not nearly as afraid of being haunted by Schultz’s potential as I am by sending Yakupov’s elsewhere. Besides, Schultz seems to be a cog in the clique, so that could help break that up, too. But in the end, I hope they cannot get it done for Myers, and O’Reilly falls this way, because he really could be a great fit for this team, whether at center or on the wing, either/or.

  • Lofty

    I sure hope this Score update stating the Oilers are open to trading the “early 2015 draft pick for a player a little further along” is an ISIS webpage hack.

    I can see it now: “The Oilers have traded the 2015 1st overall pick to Carolina for Alexander Semin and Riley Nash .” #herecometheOilers

    • freelancer

      If anything I won’t be surprised to see both the 1st round pick from the Penguins, as well as our second round pick in play. In a deep draft both of those could carry some weight. I would love to see one or both of those turned into some actual help on defense.

      • Lofty

        Absolutely no problem with trading the Pitt pick.

        The Oilers knack for trying to be the smartest person in the room, makes me worry that its the other 1st rounder they’re talking about.

        I would also love to see the 2016 1st rounder traded at this years draft to send a message that the tanking stops now.

    • neojanus

      The oilers have traded this years first overall to toronto for phaneuf and kadri.

      MacT was quoted as saying “Phaneuf gives us another Norris potential and with kadri we bring in more skill to play with yak”

      Bob Stauffer was quoted “I look for Nelson to be the jack Adams favorite next year”

      Lowe was nowhere in sight…

    • Joy S. Lee

      Actually, that’s a question worth asking. I mean, what’s the first overall pick worth? Or the second? Or the third?

      What’s Sydney worth?

      I’d have a hard time trading either McDavid or Eichel, but I’d still explore the return, which should likely be extravagant. (read: lots.)

      The sheer volume of quality returns in exchange for such a player would be excessive, and could build the foundation of this organization for years to come. After all, there are already several top picks assembled here, and a couple of nice ones are soon to join the team as well.

      Trading a kid like McDavid could net numerous picks and prospects, as well as some trending up young NHL players, all in the same deal, so it wouldn’t be anything to sneeze at when you consider what it would do to the overall scope of this team and the one in OKC (currently doing exceedingly well).

      I’m just supposing, of course, because I think McDavid and Hall could be the world’s most intimidating speed-duo and am intrigued by the thought, but nevertheless, there are many ways to skin a _______.

  • Doctor Smashy

    Is it possible that underlying numbers don’t mean as much as some people think? What, in practical terms, does a FF or Corsi of 46 vs 51 really mean?

  • Tikkanese

    The Oilers “better” record under Nelson has absolutely nothing to do with the deletion of Leon, the additions of Roy and a healthy and hot Pouliot. Nothing.

  • Tikkanese

    Maybe I don’t fully undrstand Corsi

    But from what I do, it seems a very simplistic almost meaningless stat since it doesn’t take quality of shot into account

    All shots are not equal

    So if a team has 20 shots, but all from the perimeter, and the other team has 10 shots from point blank range, Corsi will favour the team with the higher shots

    A very flawed stat indeed

    Makes me wonder why so many believe in it?

    I know a stats guy would say over time and sample size it evens out, sorry, that’s not good enough for it to be credible IMO

  • As you know Matt, not all shots are created equal. Have Scrivens and Fasth been facing more perimeter shots. Have the forwards been collapsing in on the net when facing pressure in their own end. (Cutting down on the number of passes that cross the net from within the hash marks.)

    I’m not ready to credit Nelson. But let’s not discount him either. The players have been playing harder. That’s on Nelson.