Two Teams

The joke for the last year has been that the Oilers are “Visually
Better”. The phrase is used in a somewhat mocking context now, but early in the
year they HAVE been visually better. Despite this their shot attempt
differentials place them in the bottom tier of the NHL once again. Maybe the
problem is that we really need to think about the Oilers as two different teams.

Edmonton ranks 26th in 5v5 Corsi For Percentage
with 46.8% on the season so far (numbers via stats.hockeyanalysis.com and Oct
31 before the game against the Flames). When I mentioned that the Oilers’
record (4-7-0) has been frustrating because Edmonton has been in the game
during most of their losses, it’s that 46.8% CF that was thrown back in my
face.

The implication there is that no, the Oilers were not really
in the games. They were being dominated in shot attempts. There are a couple of
reasons why that’s not really the same as being “out” of games. The number one reason is that Edmonton has some high end talent that doesn’t need a multitude
of chances in order to create goals. McDavid can score on any given shift. The
number two reason is because that team possession number only tells part of the
story.

If we focus on a select few players who can act as proxies
for the four lines and three defensive pairings and look at their Corsi For Percentage
you start to see a rather stark distinction between Edmonton’s top six and their
bottom 6. For the 4 lines I used RNH, McDavid, Lander, and Letestu. Until the
Halloween game those four remained separated on each line. For the three pairings I
used Klefbom, Sekera, and Gryba. The table below is the shot attempt differential
(percentage) with those forwards (lines) and defensemen (pairings).

table

In five of the six combinations with the third and fourth lines
and the three defensive pairings the Oilers in somewhere in the 30’s with their
shot attempts. It’s been Bad News Bears when the bottom six steps out onto the
ice. It’s part of the reason why McLellan started scrambling the combinations
against the Flames.

That said, in the top two lines the Oilers have had pretty
good success at even strength with the shot attempt share. With the Sekera
pairing and the Gryba pairing, the Nuge and McDavid lines are both better than
50% in attempts.

I wouldn’t be so quick to point out there are effectively
two Oiler teams if the difference between them wasn’t so pronounced. The drop
off is unbelievably steep. For Gryba the attempts drop from the low 50’s to the
low 30’s as soon as he’s playing with the checking lines. Lander in particular
isn’t good with any pairing. Letestu only has success playing with
Klefbom/Schultz. It’s a nightmare.

If the club can get lines three and four on track again they could
really sway the fortunes of the team, because the top two are already
performing well by points and by underlying possession metrics.

Edmonton has two teams. Team 1 is a highly potent offensive
club that controls the puck and keeps solid possession numbers. Team 2 is
offensively limp and is getting caved in by shot attempts. Goaltending has been
solid in all except Nilsson’s lone bad outing. That’s covered up a lot of how
poor the bottom 6 has been for the Oilers. I don’t know what the long term
outlook is for the team this year if Team 2 doesn’t join Team 1 soon.

  • Devolution

    How much do the zone starts affect the Corsi though? Guys like Lander and Letestu almost always start in the defensive zone, naturally leading to a worse Corsi I think.

  • SSB1963

    The difference to me seems to be that on our top two lines they are capable of skating the puck up and out of our zone. They’re able to generate pressure and keep the puck in the offensive zone for extended periods. Our third and fouth lines cant do it, anywhere nearly as well either skating it out of our zone or sustaining pressure in the offensive zone.

    I see two options. One involves trading players and that might work. First game or two of the season our 4th line did manage to keep the puck in deep for awhile with Hendricks. The other is to change the system for our bottom lines, move away from skating the puck out and just dump it out and dump it in then fall back into a trap.