How Connor McDavid’s brilliance has propelled the Oilers, and how the rest of Edmonton’s depth could further improve

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
2 years ago
After a rough start, the Edmonton Oilers scored four unanswered goals to earn a 5-3 victory on Friday night, in Game 2 of the Second Round against the Calgary Flames.
With this win, Edmonton has tied the series 1-1, and they head back to Edmonton for Game 3 on Sunday night.
Game 1 was undoubtedly a chaotic game. Calgary won by a score of 9-6, as all three goaltenders that played in the game posted a SV% below 0.870. Goaltending wasn’t the only issue for Edmonton, as their defensive play was abysmal. With the exception of a few players, the vast majority of both Edmonton’s forwards and defencemen had struggled defensively. 
However, Edmonton significantly bounced back last night, as their offence continued to shine. Although they weren’t perfect, their defensive play was also a considerable improvement from Game 1. They certainly cleaned up a lot of their coverage errors.
Connor McDavid also continues to dominate, and he’s probably the Conn Smythe favourite right now. In this piece, I’ll take a look into McDavid’s performance, the performance of the team around him, and make some suggestions for how Edmonton could further improve.
Could this improvement begin with Dylan Holloway?
*All stats via EvolvingHockey and Natural Stat Trick unless stated otherwise

A breakdown of all four lines at 5v5

There are several things to note here.
Firstly, I don’t have enough words to describe Connor McDavid’s performance. These results are phenomenal. McDavid has been able to thrive with a variety of different linemates, and Edmonton has out-scored and out-chanced the opposition by a significant margin with him on ice.
Of course, McDavid’s offence has considerably driven these results, but his excellent defensive play also deserves attention. 
Edmonton is at a 2.6 xGA/60 and 12.0 HDCA/60 with McDavid on-ice, and a 3.2 xGA/60 and 14.9 HDCA/60 with him off-ice; in simpler terms, Edmonton allows a markedly inferior amount of chances against, when McDavid is on the ice. 
McDavid has been able to suppress both quantity and quality against, indicating that his defensive results aren’t just due to strong puck possession and keeping the puck away from the DZ; he’s thrived at in-zone defending as well.
Currently, McDavid is at 20 total points in 9 playoff games, and 13 of his total 14 assists are primary assists. How impressive is this?
Last season in 2020-21, Steven Stamkos was tied at 3rd place for most playoff points. He had 18 points, but produced them in 23 games; in other words, McDavid has out-scored a top-three point leader in last year’s playoffs in 14 games less. 
Furthermore, McDavid currently sits at a Points/60 of 6.0 at all strengths, the highest playoff point pace in a single season out of any player in the past 15 years (minimum 150 TOI). No player has a Points/60 over 5.2 in that span. His Primary Assists/60 is at 3.92. Only twelve other players have crossed the 2.0 mark, and not a single other player has crossed the 2.6 mark (Pastrnak came close in 17-18, at 2.59).
“He’s a great player, he’s the best player in the league,” said Flames coach Darryl Sutter, after the game on Wednesday night. “He was the best player on the ice last night. Not even close.”
“He’s willing to pay a price to win, he’s driven to win,” said Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft. “He has an effect on everyone in our organization with that desire to take his game to the next level.”
“The way this guy is playing right now, it’s special. He’s driving our team forward.”
Overall, McDavid has been on-ice for 27 of Edmonton’s total 38 goals in the playoffs. This is a remarkable total for McDavid, but does indicate that the rest of the team has room to improve.
Leon Draisaitl is obviously not at 100% right now, playing with a high ankle sprain (Mark Spector also mentioned that he may be playing with a back injury as well, about a week ago). It’s pretty evident when you watch him on the ice as well (although he did seem much faster last night).
It’s shown up in his on-ice results as well. In the regular season, Edmonton out-scored the opposition 50 – 43 with Draisaitl on-ice, and McDavid off-ice; today, it’s simply a factually incorrect narrative that Draisaitl is some sort of beneficiary of McDavid’s play, when healthy.
However, his line mightily struggled against LA in Round 1, as the team was out-scored 1 – 7 with Draisaitl on ice without McDavid. Consequently, it’s the correct decision to play Draisaitl alongside McDavid for the time being, as McDavid’s results are otherworldly with and without Draisaitl. 
To add on, it’s incredible that Draisaitl is still at 15 points in 9 games, in spite of essentially playing on one leg. McDavid is (deservingly) obtaining the spotlight right now, but Draisaitl also deserves appreciation for his continued high production rates.
As for Nugent-Hopkins’ line, he’s at an exactly even goal differential; Edmonton has scored five goals with him on-ice, and allowed five against. However, it’s noteworthy that three of those goals were the final three goals of Edmonton’s 8-2 victory against Los Angeles in Game 3, and he’s struggled in regards to scoring chances, especially high-quality ones.
With that said, I wouldn’t blame most of RNH’s play-driving results on just himself, and this brings me to my next topic.

Let’s talk about Josh Archibald

When RNH is on-ice with Josh Archibald, they’re 2 – 2 in 5v5 on-ice goals together. They’re quite lucky they aren’t much worse.
With those two players on ice, high danger chances are at an abysmal ratio of 6 – 23 in favour of the opposition, and both goals from that duo came in the later parts of Edmonton’s blowout victory in G3 against LA (as stated previously). Overall, Nuge’s xGF% is at 31% with Archibald.
Meanwhile, Nuge is significantly superior at driving goals and scoring chances away from Archibald. High-danger chances are at a considerably superior ratio of 18 – 15, and Nuge’s xGF% away from Archibald is 58%.
In Game 2, RNH played alongside Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujarvi, while Archibald played on the fourth line. With the exception of one poor shift, I thought the 2nd line was excellent all game long. This is definitely a decision I agree on with Woodcroft, and I’d further argue that Archibald shouldn’t be in the lineup at all.
Overall, out of all 780 players with at least 500 5v5 TOI in the past three seasons, Josh Archibald ranks 737th in 5v5 goal differential. He ranks 705th in 5v5 expected goal differential. Simply put, the team is significantly out-socred and out-chanced whenever he steps on-ice.
Of course, many cite Archibald’s physicality as the primary reason for his inclusion in the lineup. However, Archibald isn’t really utilizing his hits to contribute to winning games. He ranks in the 13th percentile in Forecheck Pressures (via Corey Sznajder) and 30th percentile in Offensive Zone Takeaways in the past two seasons.
The majority of his hits and physical plays aren’t in the offensive zone, and aren’t always used to create turnovers. Rather, a considerable portion of his bodychecks take place in the DZ, as he’s constantly stuck in his own zone.
Essentially, the Josh Archibald arguments essentially boil down to one main question;
Would you rather deploy a forward that posts a plethora of hits (mostly in the DZ), and provides “grit” to the lineup? Or would you rather desire your third/fourth lines to have a superior probability of scoring more goals than they allow, and spending more time in the offensive zone?
Although teams should pursue players that can do both, if I had to choose between one or the other, I would undoubtedly choose the latter option.

Should Dylan Holloway obtain an opportunity?

March 16, 2021; South Bend, IN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers goaltender Jack LaFontaine (45) makes a save as Wisconsin Badgers forward Dylan Holloway (4) looks for a rebound during the Big Ten hockey tournament championship game at Compton Family Ice Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Mersits/South Bend Tribune via USA TODAY NETWORK
There has been discussion regarding Dylan Holloway, among several Oilers fans.
After the Bakersfield Condors were eliminated in the AHL playoffs, the Oilers recalled several players, which included Holloway. Per Ryan Rishaug, Holloway skated with the main group on Friday morning, and also took warmups before the game, but didn’t play.
Holloway has had an interesting progression thus far. He was drafted 14th overall by the Oilers in the 2020 draft. In 2020-21, he played for the University of Wisconsin in the NCAA. That year, he ranked 5th in the league in EV Primary Points/60, and Wisconsin out-scored the opposition 24 – 13 with him on-ice, a goal differential of 65% (courtesy of Pick224). Holloway was also named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
However, Holloway has dealt with some considerable injuries in the past year, primarily regarding his wrist. Holloway originally underwent surgery to repair a scaphoid bone fracture in his wrist, back in late March. He then had a second surgery on September 14, 2021, after still sustaining some wrist issues, and finally began playing with Bakersfield this year.
Although I’m unable to display the exact results for unspecified reasons, some people who have access to private data have shown me a sneak peek at some AHL stats regarding the Bakersfield Condors. 
This season, Dylan Holloway ranks second among Bakersfield players in Expected Goal Differential, only behind Ryan McLeod (who played seven games for the Condors, earlier in the season). Since McLeod’s AHL sample is quite small, and since he’s on the NHL roster, in technicality, Holloway was Bakersfield’s best play-driver.
He’s faced some poor luck in regards to goal differential, but nonetheless, he’s been evidently strong at driving scoring chances, and his GF% will likely not sustain. It’s also an explanation for why his box-score AHL point totals weren’t exceedingly impressive this season (alongside his wrist issues that were mentioned above).

My take? I think Holloway deserves an opportunity.
From what I’ve seen of him, Holloway is a fine two-way play-maker who provides elements of speed, strong transitional play, and skill. He also excels at drawing penalties. 
We’ve seen examples of young players having their NHL debuts in the playoffs and still succeeding, with @Cale Makar being an excellent example of recent. Of course, I’m not attempting to imply that Holloway is or ever will be at the level of Makar, but it’s something worth noting. 
An example of a player that’s achieved success and is at a similar age to Holloway, is @Seth Jarvis. He’s posted 40 points in 63 games with Carolina, alongside excellent underlying numbers. Jarvis was selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft, just ahead of Holloway.
Furthermore, as stated previously, there’s plenty of evidence that Holloway doesn’t have the strongest competition.
The team without 97, 29 and 93 is doing fine in regards to GF% / xGF%, largely due to some excellent defensive play by Ryan McLeod, but the fourth line could further improve. Last night, the fourth line was 0 – 1 in goals, and spent most of their night in the DZ.
In the playoffs, I’d say it’s pretty important for all four lines to contribute in some sort of way.
Archibald is poor at contributing to team offence and defence, as evidenced above. Additionally, Kassian’s inconsistency issues remain. He took an unwise penalty against Calgary in G1, which led to a goal against. Alongside a 43 xGF% and 41 HDCF%, he isn’t contributing much in regards to on-ice impact, and he hasn’t done much to protect Edmonton’s stars either, which was one of the primary justifications for his $3.2M contract. Kassian played merely 4:16 in Game 2, while Archibald played 3:55.
If Kassian and Archibald aren’t playing much, and are essentially providing below-replacement level value in regards to on-ice impact, is there any harm in deploying Holloway over them in a limited role in the bottom six? It’s a pretty difficult task for him to perform a lot worse than those two. 
One of Calgary’s defensive strengths is their entry defence, and two poor transitional players that play a dump & chase style of game aren’t as useful against them. I have significantly more faith in a speedier Holloway making clean zone entries and generating chances off of them, as opposed to Archibald/Kassian.
In my opinion, I think it’s a pretty low-risk, high-reward situation, and I don’t see much of a worst-case scenario if Holloway plays limited minutes. I’m uncertain if he makes any sort of significant impact right now, but at the very least, several things suggest that deploying Holloway over one of Archibald/Kassian is a fine decision. 
I’d give it a shot.
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

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