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Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Hitch Effect

It’s been ten games since the Oilers made the switch from Todd McLellan to Ken Hitchcock and the team is winning. It feels good, doesn’t it Oilers fans? Yet, there are still some of you who aren’t satisfied. Some of you say that Ken Hitchcock has made this a boring team and some of you fear that the veteran Head Coaches emphasis on structure and defence will hurt Connor McDavid’s ability to produce offence.

I’m here to tell you that could not be further from the truth.

In 20 games under Todd McLellan the Oilers the Oilers averaged 2.85 goals per game. In their first ten games under Hitchcock, they have are averaging just 2.40 goals per game.

A deeper look will show you that the Oilers haven’t gotten better at producing or preventing chances since making the coaching change. Under McLellan, they averaged 21.15 scoring chances for per game (at even strength) while giving up 22.75 scoring chances per game.

Under Hitchcock, they have produced 20.70 scoring chances per game while giving up 22.90 scoring chances per game. The difference under McLellan was (1.60) while the difference with Hitchcock is (2.20). Those numbers and all numbers in this piece are via naturalstattrick.com.

The Oilers appear to be playing a more structured game with their new bench boss. I find that they aren’t turning over pucks as much as they used to and they’ve been a little bit better at moving the puck up the ice in an efficient manner. That isn’t being reflected in a lot of the numbers I looked at, scoring chances included.

Could the difference possibly be simply that the Oilers are getting better goaltending under Hitchcock

In the 20 games under McLellan, the Oilers goaltenders faced 505 shots at even strength and gave up 47 goals. If my math is correct, and I believe it is, that’s a save percentage of 0.906. In the last ten games, they’ve faced 238 shots and allowed 16 goals at even strength. That’s a save percentage of 0.932. That is a massive difference.

Some will say that the system Hitchcock has implemented has made life easier on the goalies. Less wide open looks and such. I buy that to an extent and while I do think Hitchcock has made a positive impact on this team, their goaltenders have gone from below average to sensational at even strength. That cannot be glossed over.

Is it sustainable? I don’t think so, but I also don’t want to take anything away from Mikko Koskinen and Cam Talbot. Their even strength shooting percentage has also dropped, so one would believe the Oilers will get more luck in the offensive zone as the season goes on. If their goaltending does happen to come back to earth a little bit, then their offence should be able to pick up some of the slack.

WHAT ABOUT CONNOR?

Oct 30, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Minnesota Wild goaltender Alex Stalock (32) makes a save on Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

“He might lose some of his offence, but Hitchcock will make McDavid a better overall player.”

“He might not get the same number of chances, but the Oilers will win more.”

Those were two very common phrases being thrown around at the time of Ken Hitchcock’s arrival. The idea that he would suck the offence out of McDavid’s game like some sort of weird defensive vampire. Naturally, that made Oilers fans a little nervous. We want to see the Oilers win and make the playoffs, but we also want to see McDavid embarrass defenders and create the endless amount of offence we’ve become accustomed to.

Let me run a few numbers by you.

This season, under Todd McLellan, McDavid averaged 2.2 shots per game, 2.7 individual scoring chances per game, and 1.15 high danger corsi events per game. When he was simply on the ice, the Oilers averaged 9.7 scoring chances per game.

How has he fared under Hitch? 2.7 shots per game, 3.3 scoring chances per game, 1.0 high danger corsi events per game. When he’s on the ice, the Oilers averaged 8.9 scoring chances per game. All of these numbers are at even strength.

The numbers are honestly pretty identical. The fear that Ken Hitchcock would make Connor McDavid less of an offensive threat has proven to be rather silly

In general, the numbers paint a bit of a mixed picture when it comes to the beginning of the Hitchcock era in Edmonton but there is one number that I haven’t mentioned, and that’s wins.

The Oilers have won 70% of their games thus far with Hitch behind the bench. You really can’t complain about that.

  • Oil DAWG

    There is no doubt in my mind this team is playing way better under Hitch. The defense is improved. The fire looks lit under their skates and I am enjoying it!!

  • OilersGM

    McLellan didn’t have the (IT) fector, he didn’t have it in San Jose and he didn’t have it here, he was missing the exuberance. He was too much of a nice guy and a coach with an ego, my way or no way and eventually the players get sick of that.
    He was token to school by Carlyle in the 16/17 playoffs and it started before game 1 in the media session. I’m glad he is gone, better luck somewhere else. McLellan got recognized because of Babcock.
    Hitch on the other hand has all the qualities of a great coach, the (IT) factor. Even if players don’t like him, the respect him and there lies the difference. When a coach favours players even when they don’t play well that doesn’t go unnoticed. Players are smarter than that.
    Hitch Hitch approaches it differently and it doesn’t matter who the player is he well let them be known if they are not playing the right way.

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      You make it sound like Todd got our coached in the Anaheim series. If I remember correctly, we lost that series because the NHL couldn’t (and still can’t) figure out what goaltender interference is

  • Fireball

    The Win percentage is what matters.. they are winning more under Hitch. You can score all you want but if you loose it don’t matter.. Oilers fans have had so much emphasis on scoring for so long they forgot that it’s 200 foot Hockey that wins cups.. the days of Gretz n Mess are long gone where you win Cups scoring 6/7 goals a game. Took a whole decade of Darkness and trying to recreate mirrored teams to figure that out.. or have We ?? You can see some fans don’t get it.. if you don’t look after the defensive side of the puck you will never win.. time to start valuing Coaches and players who don’t loose you the game and quit looking for highlights.. The biggest highlight I want to see is Connor n the boys hoisting the Stanley Cup. If that’s taking every game by one… then that’s what needs to happen.. Obviously what they were doing before don’t work. So if this is something we haven’t seen in Etown Ever .. it’s likely going to work.. I’m going to go ahead and say.. once Hitch Fully implements his System ( might I add it’s always changing and he’s a student of the game ) The boys are going to figure out they can take the Kaos out of the game and beat you 1-0 every night. I know the others have their backs they are going to score more than ever..

      • Fireball

        He identifies problems and solutions., he can develop players because of it. The Oilers are one of the youngest teams in the league.. Being able to develop and help players starts with identifying the problems and telling them how to fix it.. it’s called coaching. Hitch is really good at it. He isn’t talking philosophically in his pressers. He’s talking X’s n O’s. I love how he points out they are playing to far apart or to close together., when they make mistakes he says we looked at that, we know what went wrong and we’re going to fix it. It’s not a mystery

    • Mr. McDavid

      if Taylor Hall cannot win the Calder
      if the Nuge cannot win the Calder
      if McDavid cannot win the Calder
      when it was obvious they were the
      best in their class . Game played
      matters to those who vote.
      even though they are wrong
      Hitch cannot win the Adams
      even if they go 50 – 9 – 3
      #becauseOilers

    • ^ This is the big difference right here. There are fewer red zone scoring chances against under Hitchcock’s “layered” zone-to-man hybrid defensive system that starts with The Trap. With this, goalies have an easier time making saves, which they now are.

      This is the thing many of us have been saying for years regarding the Oilers lacking defense which impacts goalies, obviously. There’s shot attempts (Corsi), shots on net (Fenwick), scoring chances, and high-danger (red zone) scoring chances. Reduce the red zone and save percentage and goalie confidence will go up to make big saves on the few high danger shots. This is what’s happening.

      Offensively, I’m not seeing much difference in plays other than some slightly different line combos.

      The power play still needs an overhaul. When you look at the PP heat map, Nuge isn’t getting off shots because he’s a lefty. He’s not a threat. There needs to be a Letestu right shot guy there for McDavid to saucer pass to to tee him up for a one-timer. Nuge can’t and isn’t doing that so your man advantage is basically a wash. Try any righty: Puljujarvi, Rattie, Kassian, or Zykov to see who can blast it from the half wall. I’d keep Chiasson in front of the net because he knows how to make space for himself, Nuge in the middle to easily tip shot passes on his forehand from McDavid. I also think Nuge is still better on the PP than Draisaitl.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Hitch is doing something TM wouldnt do, and that is installa system based on the basics. You can see it in the Oilers play as soon as the puck crosses over center ice and it is heading the Oilers way, the guys start to play defensively and you can see if as the oppsoition progresses deeper into teh zone as soon as they are over the blue line the Oilers players and are pushing to get them to the boards trying to limit any shots to the outside they will jam the guys up along the boys and then work to get the puck out of the zone, if the opposition breaks that containment the oilers pressure the puck carrier to limit his time and decision making with the puck while the other guys are tightening up the box, the Oilers are trying to limit passes and seem to be doing a better job of defending.

    Hitch seems to have these guys playing a lot better even the shots on the Oilers seem to be down from what they were when TM was coaching. I never understood why TM had the guys keep coming straight on back when and opposition player was carrying the puck, like it was like they just allowed them to skate with it roght towards the net and the Oilers player just kept back in and in until they were in front of the net, I didnt understand that at all, there was like no pressure at all.

    The PP has been better just no results to show for it, but its better than the 5 lefties thing TM was doing. The Oilers seem to be reeling off more shots now, which it seemed under TM it was pass pass pass all the time. The PK seems to be better isntead of soing that staues thing that TM had them doin or where he had one guy chasing the puck handler all over, the Oilers went to the diamon /box sscenario and they are using the active stick routine but I like that they are pressuring the minute a pass is made and the man has the puck, I always thought the Oil werent doing that enough under TM and TM never seemed to want to change the players who werent performing on either unit, with Hitch that doesnt seem to be the case.

    The other thing with Hitch is that the guys will be accountable for their play, if your not playing well Hitch will tell you, if your really not playing well you will ride the pine for a few shifts or a period or find yourself in the pressbox YM seemed loathe to do that with players, unless your name was Jesse.

    Hitch seems to want to help the guys be better, and tell them were they are lacking in there play, this is one big change that T,M could have did but wouldnt, I think that will make a huge difference in guys play if they get told ” hey your doing this wrong and getting beat because of it” or whatever, I think Hitch wants to help guys better better because he cares about their play and how it effects the team, TM I just think expected guys to figure it out and nothing changed for them. Christ Benning was a tire fire most of the time, but since Hitch has come around Benning has looked better ( and yes even I cant believe that ) I dont think Hitch coddles guys he knows what he wants out of them and tells them so and is willing to work with them to get the best out of them, TM and Hitch just have different approaches to coaching style and tactics and you can already see it in the games since Hitch took over

  • What the numbers don’t show is effort. They’ve all completely bought into whatever Hitch is telling them and playing smarter games, it’s amazing seeing all 5 skaters reading each other and playing in snyc. Todd definitely had some good qualities but he was a “doom-and-gloom” type of guy when things would turn south. He would panic and then get frustrated and we saw that in the post-game pressers and line juggling. Maybe some fresh air was just what they needed? He’s no “player’s coach” or team motivator and after losing game 7 to Aneheim it followed up with huge expectations which was followed by huge disappointment which followed by more negativity to the point where Todd drove the team into no-man’s land. Looking back it’s really sad to think that the Ducks’ 3rd period game winner was the end for Todd and that he’d hit rock bottom soon after instead of reaching the sky and winning a cup.

  • KootenayDan

    A whole lot less seperation between the forwards and defernse and they come back deeper in their own zone now. The forwards do not leave the zone until they have possession. There is no more chaos in the D zone they just trust the system and do their job.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I never liked TMac and his bullheadedness. There are too many variables to compare the two. The most important one is that one was trending down fast while the other is sending the team and the fan positive vibes. Go Hitch and who cares about the bullhead. He probably still thinks he knows better in spite of his record showing different

  • Abagofpucks

    @ Mr. Mcdavid, the fact that you call yourself this and spew the things you do here is an insult to Conner and the team. And i will never respond to you or bother to trash or cheers anything you say from now on.

    • JDOGG96

      Goaltending…….if we would have been getting goaltending at the start of the year Mclellan would still be her, and to comment the “power play is much better under Hitch they just aren’t scoring” …how is that any better its the same, all the stats they are virtually the same not much has changed just getting goaltending and wins. It was the right move at the time to bring in Hitch but also don’t forget everytime we get a new coach we are all so high on them like when Mclellan and Chiarelli led them to the playoffs everyone was so high but boy does that change quick in this market, give it a year or two and the OBC will wreck Hitch too.

  • Kybra

    In looking at the impact to McDavid you’re not considering the significant increase in minutes played under Hitch. Adding this to equation, he’s producing less.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      ppg under McL: 1.40
      ppg under Hitch: 1.44
      That’s a 2.9% increase in points-per-game for McDavid under Hitch.
      If we’re talking about points, McDavid’s producing more.
      pts/TOI doesn’t speak to production; it speaks to efficiency.

  • KennyG

    The 10 games they play against the 3 teams below them in there division will seal there fate. Need 8 wins minimum but last year the Oil didn’t fair to well against Canucks or Coyotes. LA has bin a split thus far. Long way to the finish line either way. Hope for the best!!

  • Bladesofsteel

    Mr. McDavid (it doesn’t feel right even texting that), people trash your comments because they might not find them intelligent. If hitch finished with that record I’d bet he would win the jack A award. Calling people out from behind a keyboard probably from your mothers basement, is not a good way of interacting. I see why your mad it’s very hypocritical. Change your name as it puts a stain on someone else’s, jump on the flames wagon and hit the QE2 south my man. Enjoy the day

  • BobbyCanuck

    When Hitch said this team needs to win the 1-0; 2-1 games, I was in disbelief, as the previous Oilers were, more often than not, simply not capable of hanging on to a 1 goal lead. Times have changed

    I rather watch the Oilers win 1-0, or 2-1 than score 5 goals, while the opposition scores 6

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      I’d like to go back to that Pens-Oilers game where Sid scored that crazy OT goal in a 5-6 loss for the Oil now for a Mulligan.I think these Oilers might have a different outcome.

  • That's My Point

    Where are all the fans who said “it’s ALL on the players, they’re on the ICE, the coach isn’t” now?????
    IT’S NOT ALL ON THE PLAYERS!
    Also some of this is on the GM for not making a coaching change sooner.
    And for all those fans that keep whining about the Hall trade, why on God’s green earth would you now want to trade Draisaitl for another defenceman, just so you can whine about another bad trade for the next few years?
    Be BETTER Edmonton.

  • camdog

    Goals are down because powerplay isn’t scoring. Did Hitch change system or did other teams adapt to what the Oilers have been doing this season?

    Another thing is the Lucic,Brodziak, Kassian line appears to be working in more ways than wearing the other team down. Kassian isn’t getting punished for his dumb plays. The line appears to be agitating the other team leading to Oilers drawing more retaliation penalties. So far in December the Oilers have drawn more penalty minutes than they have taken. I haven’t looked into the penalty minutes in detail but it seems to reflect what I see. The retaliatory penalties get called more in this league than the initial infraction. Tkachuk draws a lot of penalties, the greasier you play the more power plays you get. They just need to score on their power plays.

  • toprightcorner

    I agree with working on the defensive structure first. As a team, that was their biggest weakness. Once the defensive structure becomes a habit that they consistently play day in and day out, then you open up the offense. Hitch has said many times that when the team does not have the puck, you play his way and when you do have the puck, play as creatively as you want. If you look at what Madano, Hull and Tarasenko have done under Hitch, there should be no fear that McDavids or Draisaitl’s offense will suffer.

  • The Swarm

    This article is what you ask in the middle of August when there is nothing else to analyze. Do you think Hitch really cares about McDavid’s stats? He cares about winning. Period. The Oilers are immeasurably better in several areas. PP, PK, first shot goals, overall defense, and most importantly – winning hockey games. We need more Hitch.