Jordan Eberle made an interesting comment today as to why
the PP is doing better under Nelson. As per Derek Van Diest, Eberle had this to
say: “I think maybe on the start of the year we were really focused on shooting
the puck and Corsi numbers. When that starts creeping in your head, you’re just
shooting the puck just to shoot it and you’re not trying to create the best
opportunity you can.”
That’s going to stir up the hornet’s nest quite a bit. As
someone who has been interested in the Power Play and the numbers it’s indeed a
very interesting comment. For the Anti-Stats people it will be something of a
rallying cry, I suppose. There are loads of people who haven’t trusted the
advanced stats crowd and here in Edmonton the conversation is extremely heated.
If we can take Eberle’s words at face value then there
really was a problem with the way Dallas Eakins’ team was generating shots. I
had written about the Power Play early in the year here and found that the Oilers really did have significantly improved numbers from
the year before and the Krueger year as well. They were creating more shot
attempts and unblocked shot attempts although it wasn’t translating into shots as
well. What’s worse is that their shooting percentage was actually 26th
in the league when I wrote that.
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Over the Eakins portion of the 2014-2015 season the Oil were generating 96.6 Corsi Events per 60 minutes. That places them 18th
in the NHL. However, they were 25th in actual shots per 60 with just
47.1 during that time. When Eakins had finished the on-ice shooting percentage
for the PP was 8.1% which was actually 28th ranked. Quite poor indeed.
Bad luck, or a product of trying to game the system?
Again, if we take Eberle’s words at face value then the
players were being told they needed to increase their shots per minute and that
got into their heads. If this is true then it represents a failure in coaching.
I say that even as I truly believe teams need to increase the number of shots
to be truly effective.
When I say that’s a failure of coaching what I mean is that
the coaching staff should be preaching methods and strategies about HOW to
create more opportunities, not simply demanding more shots. The coach knew that
his team was woefully behind in generating chances and he wanted to increase
that. Good. He apparently told his team that they just needed to shoot more.
Bad.
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So when Nelson took over the Oilers just stopped all that
silly shot gaming and started taking more quality shots, right? I mean it
really is the idea of shot quality and creativity vs boring math and
spreadsheets at the heart of this, no?
Well, that’s the difference in the delivery of the message
and quality coaching. Argue until you’re blue in the face that Nelson got them
to focus on quality vs quantity all you want, but the facts are that Nelson
ALSO has this team generating more Corsi events and shots.
Over the course of the Nelson era the Oilers have had a
significant increase in the metrics as well as the overall efficiency of the Power
Play. Since Nelson took over as the solo Head Coach the Oilers have been
generating 108.7 shot attempts per 60 minutes. They are 7th in Corsi
For over that time. That’s no small thing. In terms of actual shots, the Oilers
are now taking 57.3 shots per 60 minutes on the PP which is 9th in
the NHL.
The shooting percentage has indeed gone up too. In fact, it has
actually doubled. The Oilers under Nelson are shooting 16.3% on the Power Play.
Does that mean they are taking more quality chances or are they just getting
the bounces? It doesn’t have to be an either/or, really. They can be taking
what they feel are better shots, getting more favourable bounces, and still
be performing well by the metrics.
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But the Oilers are taking more shots and creating more Corsi
events now under Nelson, so does that mean he’s also preaching to up the Corsi?
I think this is all about messaging. The players themselves
aren’t particularly accustomed to talking about Corsi, and really they don’t
have to be. If Dallas Eakins was talking more about Corsi than he was about
breakouts, zone entries, and strategies to create chances then that was a
massive blunder. Spend more time with control of the puck in the attacking zone
and you should be generating more attempts. If those attempts are more than
gaming the clock by shooting even though the lane is closed then they should
start generating more actual shots as a result.
Players need to be taught how to do things in the language of
the sport. While the language is changing to include things like Corsi or Shot
Attempts, those aren’t the right concepts when it comes time to teaching. Those
are evaluative tools first and foremost and I think Eakins was maybe trying to
use it too much in the teaching aspect of his job. Jordan Eberle doesn’t need
to be told to shoot more from everywhere because the team needs a better Corsi.
He needs to be shown different ways to gain zone entry, to create open passing
lanes, and to adjust the play to what the penalty killers are doing. At the end
of the day the Corsi gets upped as a result.
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A good PP that is based on more than just lucky bounces
should be good at creating both the quality and number of the chances. The
coaches should be preaching the strategies to get their players those looks
that eventually result in quality metrics. If Eakins was actually preaching to
increase the metrics rather than habits that result in good metrics then that
was a problem.
Messaging is important. Nelson and Eakins both wanted to get
their teams to shoot more and create more chances. Under Eakins it sounds like
the players struggled to understand or at very least feel comfortable because
the message didn’t make any sense to them. With Nelson it appears as if he’s
speaking their language. I doubt Eakins wanted to be gaming Corsi, but that’s
what Jordan Eberle ended up feeling like his coach wanted from the team because
the delivery of the game plan was poorly executed.
In the end, Nelson has the team generating more Corsi events
and shots in general but his message (and a healthy shooting percentage) has
them feeling comfortable and creative doing it.*
 
*Justin Schultz should still be shooting more 😉
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