GDB 75.0: Oilers’ Defensive Game Has Gone Awry in March (8pm MT, SNW)

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
7 months ago
Despite going 10-2-1 in March, the third best record in the NHL, there is much consternation regarding the play of the Edmonton Oilers, specifically in the defensive zone. They have allowed 3.54 goals/game in March, but they’ve outscored their defensive woes by racking up a ridiculous 4.54 goals/game. Let’s look at if there should be major concern or if they are just in a funk.
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Their defensive play has wobbled the past five games and in fact for much of the month of March.  In their first eight games in March, they allowed more than three goals twice. Stuart Skinner allowed six v. Toronto, while Jack Campbell gave up six in Winnipeg. In both games, the opposition scored three goals in less than four minutes, but in their other six games, all Skinner starts, they allowed only 13 goals. However, they’ve allowed 19 goals in their last five games, and that has drastically increased the concern meter.
And the increase in goals isn’t just on the goalies. In fact, they have actually played better than they did between October-February, but they are facing more quality chances.
From October to February 28th the Oilers ranked ninth in expected goals against (xGA) at 2.22 and were seventh in high-danger chances xGA at 1.98. But in March they are 16th in xGA at 3.13 and 18th in high-danger chances xGA at 2.21.
Their leaky defensive coverage has seen their xGA go from 2.22 to 3.13 courtesy of Clear Sight Analytics. (I should note they, along with SportLogic, have lower shots on goal than NHL.com does, as the NHL still overcounts some shots.)
Here is a comparison for Skinner from October to February and then March.
In Oct-Feb Skinner had a .904 expected Sv% and his adjusted Sv% was -0.6. His .904 was the fifth highest in the NHL, which meant he had a relatively easy environment, in the sense the Oilers weren’t giving up a lot of chances.
In March, Skinner has -0.1 adjusted Sv% on an .890 expected Sv%. He has actually been better in a tougher environment of shots faced. When your expected Sv% drops 14 points, more goals are going to go in even if you play better.
Here’s a look at Campbell.
In Oct-Feb Campbell was -5.8 adjusted Sv% with an .899 expected Sv%
In March Campbell was -2.6 adjusted Sv% with an .897 expected Sv%.
Campbell has actually played much better lately. Last night he made many key saves, as the Oilers were allowing cross-seam passes far too often. Campbell hasn’t been good enough this season, but his numbers, combined with Skinner’s, illustrate how the Oilers have started giving up more quality chances lately.
That trend needs to stop. Even their PK can be better than it has been this month. The PK has been underwhelming for most of the season.
In October it was 76.7%.
November was 69.4%.
December 73.3%.
January was their best month at 82.1%.
February was 78.1%.
March is 73.7%.
For much of this season, the Oilers were quite good defensively. Campbell’s 3.48 GAA was more a reflection of his play than of the team in front of him.
One stat that is often an indicator of playoff success is even strength high danger xGA. (No one stat will tell you everything, but it often is quite accurate).
From October to February the Oilers ranked second in the NHL in EV HD xGA, behind Carolina.
In March the Oilers are 14th.
Overall on the season, they are still third behind LA and Carolina. The Kings are killing it in March.
Edmonton was sound defensively for the first five months of the season, and subpar goaltending, mainly from Campbell, made their GA look much worse.
But that hasn’t been the case in March, and the skaters need to get back to how they played in the first five months.
They are capable of it, but now they have to do it.
The good news for the Oilers is their high-powered offence can carry them until they find their defensive game. It is a great asset, and their offence is actually improving as the season goes along.
Edmonton has eight games to rediscover its defensive play. If the team improves, they will be a very tough out in the playoffs. If it doesn’t, they could face an early exit.




Kane – McDavid – Yamamoto
RNH – Draisaitl – Hyman
Foegele – Bjugstad – Janmark
Kostin – Shore – Ryan
Nurse – Ceci
Ekholm – Bouchard
Kulak – Desharnais
The Oilers could go 11-7 tonight. Usually, Jay Woodcroft likes to get players in games when they are back-to-back, so we might see Philip Broberg. They didn’t skate this morning, so we won’t know for sure until warmup. Regardless of who plays, the Oiler need to play like they did in the first two periods v. Vegas on Saturday. They let the Golden Knights dominate the third period and ultimately win in OT.
Both McDavid (80) and Leon Draisaitl (68) set new career highs in assists last night. Crazy.
Since returning to the lineup on March 9th, Evander Kane leads the Oilers with four goals at 5×5, and three of them came in Seattle. The problem is he has been outscored 13-6 at 5×5. He’s been outshot 90-56. Missing half the season due to injury is a factor, but they need him to find his comfort zone.
Kane and Connor McDavid have played 101 minutes together 5×5 and have been outscored 7-4 and outshot 66-36. They’ve yet to find their chemistry from last year. Kane and Draisaitl have played 12 minutes together and were outscored 3-1. The trio has played only 9:55 together and their GF-GA is 0-0. In 19 minutes away from McDavid and Draisaitl Kane has been outscored 2-0 but did outshoot the opposition 8-7.
If Kane can play find some consistency and make better reads with and without the puck down the stretch that will be a huge boost for the Oilers. He can be a difference maker, but missing 41 games has clearly impacted his season. It is difficult for most players to return to the lineup late in the season and catch up to the speed and pace of the game. It makes way more sense for Woodcroft to play Kane on the top line down the stretch and hope he gets comfortable, because at his best he is better than Warren Foegele. If Kane doesn’t improve come playoff time, then Woodcroft could look at switching lines.

Golden Knights…

Barbashev – Eichel – Marchessault
Amadio – Karlsson – Dorofeyev
Stephenson – Roy – Kessel
Howden – Blueger – Kolesar
Martinez – Pietrangelo
McNabb – Theodore
Hague – Whitecloud
Alex Martinez is expected to return to the lineup tonight. Reilly Smith, William Carrier, Mark Stone, Logan Thompson and Aidan Hill are all still injured.
The Oilers have to be ready in the first period.  Vegas has outscored teams 74-47 in the first period. Their +27 in the first period is tied with Boston for second in the NHL behind Carolina at +30. The Oilers are sixth best at +16 (82-66).


Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers extend their winning streak in Vegas to four games with a 4-2 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Draisaitl extends his point streak to 10 games and McDavid pushes his to nine.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid and Kane become only the third set of teammates in NHL history to score their 300th goals in the same game.

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