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Edmonton Oilers in Seven: Part Six – The Paradox of Winning

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
I’m nothing if not the master of the obvious when I say that part six of the seven-game segment series was spectacular. The Oilers went 7-0 and climbed all the way into an actual divisional playoff spot as opposed to the wild card spot they had occupied.
This was a team that was 32nd overall at one point early in the season. Now they have climbed to 11th overall and are nipping at the heels of the Golden Knights for second in their division. Yes, it was a tremendous seven games over a 14-day period. However, it was even better than that. In this last segment, the Oilers laid the foundation for playoff success. Their defensive play in all phases of the game really took hold. Before we address that, let’s look at the stats for part six below.
STATRATE G1-7 +      LEAGUE RANKRATE G8-14 +   LEAGUE RANKRATE G15-21 + LEAGUE RANKRATE G22-28 + LEAGUE RANKRATE G29-35 + LEAGUE RANKRATE G36-42 + LEAGUE RANK SEASON TOTALS
RECORD, PTS%1-5-1, .214% — 31st3-4, .429% — T-10th4-3, .571% – T-10th5-2, .714% – 9th6-1, .857% – 1st7-0, 1.000% – 1st26-15-0-1, .631% – 11th
GF-GA17-30, 36.17% — 30th22-22, 50% — 16th31-27, 53% – 7th26-18, 57.8% – 6th30-15, 66.7% – 2nd21-10, 67.4% – 2nd147-122, 54.7% — 6th
5v5 GF-GA10-18, 35.71% —28th13-14, 47.1% — 21st17-18, 48.6% – 19th15-14, 51.7% – 13th26-9, 74.2% – 2nd13-9, 59.1% – 6th94-82, 53.4% — 8th
5v5 xGF%54.58 — 8th59.6% — 2nd55.1% – 6th61.2% – 2nd57.2% – 5th60.5% – 2nd58.1% — 1st
POWER PLAY7-for-27, 25.9% – 8th6-for-22, 27.3% – 9th7-for-28, 25.0% – 8th7-for-18, 38.9% – 1st2-for-21, 9.5% – 29th5-for-18, 27.8% – 6th34-for-134, 25.4% — 6th
PENALTY KILL20-for-27, 74.1% – 24th18-for-26, 69.2% – 27th28-for-31, 90.3% – 7th15-for-18, 83.3% – 9th18-for-22, 81.8% – 13th21-for-22, 95.5% – 1st120-for-146, 82.8% — 9th
SV%.861% —31st.885% — 18th.886% – 29th.904% – 14th.925% – 3rd.944% – 2nd.896% — 20th
5v5 SV%.886% — 29th.907% — 16th.872% – 29th.909% – 21st.938% – 3rd.930% – 8th.907% — 22nd
For the first time all year, the Oilers were in the top ten of each category across the NHL in this past segment. What was really interesting and why the segment is titled “The Paradox of Winning” is that the Oilers essentially flipped how they won the game. In the prior segment where they went 6-1, they absolutely ruined teams averaging more than 4 goals per game. The defensive game was really good, but the specialty teams were average to poor. In this segment, the defence won the day. The Oilers allowed ten total goals in the segment. Ten! Nine of those goals were at 5v5 and the last one was on the penalty kill.
Ahh yes, the penalty kill. With the exception of the turnaround in goaltending, the penalty kill is the single most impressive change to the Oilers’ game. This week, for the first time in as far back as I can find, the penalty kill in a 7 game segment was first in the NHL. Numero uno at a stunning 95.5%. We have talked about goaltending as having an impact on the penalty kill. No question this is a great big damn deal. The goaltending in part six of these segments ran at a .980 save percentage. To give you some context, under Jay Woodcroft in the 13 games from hell, it ran at a .765 save percentage. This segment, though, was not about goaltending in a primary sense. The Oilers have really found a penalty kill. Under Jay Woodcroft, in those thirteen games, the high-danger chances against averaged 27.4/60. Remember, these are not just shots but counts of opportunities, including misses, posts and blocks that happen right near the crease. Under Kris Knoblauch, that average has been reduced to 20.2/60. In this segment of the season, that average is down to 16.4/60. To give you some context, the 16.4/60 exceeds the Pittsburg Penguins season average of 17.8, which is first in this category. By the way, the 20.2 isn’t half bad at fourth overall since Knoblauch took over.
To add further to the penalty kill, the high-danger shots against in this segment averaged 8.7/60, which would be number one in the league by a full two high-danger shots/60. Under Jay Woodcroft, and this is the stunner, the team gave up an average of 21.6 high-danger shots every 60 minutes. More than 2.5 times what the current squad gives up. This is an amazing turnaround.
Take a look at this example of the penalty kill and notice how the Leafs were able to attack.

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All of the shots were from the outside and mostly without any obstruction on the goalie. So the Oilers gave up shots, but just not high-danger ones. They played a patient game and let their goalie see pucks and handle these. This shows up in the stats as well. On the penalty kill under Jay Woodcroft, the Oilers gave up 56 shots/60. In the last seven games, the Oilers have given up 55.5 shots/60. So the Oilers are giving up essentially the same number of shots, but the quality of those shots has been reduced by more than 60%. How are doing this? Watch this clip and just watch the tightness of the triangle and the rotation of the forwards up top. They are not allowing seam passes except on occasion and the congestion inside the slot area is not allowing entries or slot shots with ease.

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This is a much more mature penalty kill that is built on disciplined aggression as opposed to the chaotic chase style that occurred under Woodcroft. When the puck is in a vulnerable spot, the Oilers attack. If not, the Oilers hold a tight formation and use quick stop-start change of direction. It’s a diametric change to the start of the season.
The other area of the Oilers’ game that has seen phenomenal growth is their defensive prowess. Through the Knoblauch era, shot metrics like shots against/60, high danger shots/60 and high danger chances/60 have paralleled the Woodcroft 13-game snapshot. That started to change in part five and has really accelerated in part six. Under Woodcroft, the SA/60 were 27.3. In this last seven-game stretch, they were 22.8/60. The HDSA/60 and HDCA/60 under Woodcroft were 7.25 and 9.10 respectively. In these last seven games, they have been 4.9/60 and 8.6/60.  Across the league, these results would rank the Oilers at first across the board. It has been a stunning reversal of fortune since Knoblauch took over. Most of this really relates to a drastic improvement in the neutral zone. There has been a stronger commitment to maintaining a higher F3. Here is a great clip illustrating a couple of different players assuming this role.

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More importantly, there has been a strong commitment to recovery defending by the forwards. A heavy emphasis on backtracking hard through the middle and down into good positions in their defensive zone. Watch this clip here and see how the forwards react to a poor decision by Darnell Nurse.

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This is, again, quality defending by the Oilers and something that has been a rapidly developing trend under Knoblauch recently.
There is no question that this segment was an impressive performance by the Oilers. However, I think it is even more encouraging than the most optimistic commentary about this last seven games.. This Oilers team is starting to play very strong defensive hockey. Combined with the best group of offensive players in the league playoff success looks far more realistic than it did just a few months ago.
That is all for part six of the Oilers in seven.  See you all right back here in a few weeks time.

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