Edmonton Oilers

Oil Check 4: The Edmonton Oilers have even strength woes

A quarter of the way through the 2022–23 season, the Edmonton Oilers sit seventh in the Western Conference and fourth in the Pacific Division. The Oilers are currently 18th league-wide with an 12–10 record, partially due to playing the ninth hardest schedule to date. They have a good enough position for the first wild-card spot, but now they have to chase the Vegas Golden Knights, Seattle Kraken, and Los Angeles Kings to climb the ladder and better their playoff positioning.

Since the last Oil Check, the Oilers have played six games. In those six games, the Oilers have come away with a 3–3 record, although they posted a -5 goal differential during this span. However, the past six games came against teams ahead of them in the standings, including division foes and the red-hot New Jersey Devils.

The Oiler goalies split starts with Stuart Skinner receiving four of the six, while Jack Campbell received the other two. Both goalies did not perform statistically well, as Skinner (2–2) and Campbell (1–1) posted SV% below .900 and GAA above 3.

The Oilers team stats for the last few games are abysmal

As a team, the Oilers have performed poorly at 5-on-5 per conventional statistics. This is very apparent whether it is goals for (27th), goals against (23rd), or a -11 goal differential (27th). All categories are below league-average marks that are not representative of a playoff-caliber team. Other teams within this range are considered disappointing or rebuilding teams, such as Montreal, St. Louis, and Anaheim. Additional conventional performance metrics that underscore a middling, subpar 5-on-5 team include being 17th in shots for and 22nd in shots against, equating to a negative shot differential per game.

Furthermore, although they are 17th league-wide in shots taken per game at even strength, they are only 28th in shooting percentage, supporting the lack of goals scored at 5-on-5. The Oilers have also given up the tenth most High Danger Scoring Chances Against (HDSCA), a negative differential that implies the Oilers are conceding better chances against than they are receiving in the offensive zone.

The underlying metrics imply a much cloudier picture. Per Expected Goals For (XGF), the Oilers currently sit fifth league-wide at 50.7 expected goals, indicating they should have scored 14 more times at even strength than they now have. Additionally, the XGA sits 12th in the NHL at 46.5, a number on par with actual goals against when at even strength. This suggests that the Oilers have been unlucky at 5-on-5, as the Expected Goal Differential (XG Differential) is +4, whereas, in reality, the Oilers retain an actual -11 goal differential. Suppose the shooting percentage can positively regress toward the league average. In that case, the actual goal differential may soon transition towards more accurately reflecting the XG differential and supporting the above-league average metric.

However, not all underlying metrics are positive. Both expected goal percentage and (XG%) and Corsi% are below the league average. The XG% is slightly under the 50% benchmark and ranks 17th among the NHL teams. Corsi% further complements the Oilers’ inability to control shot share at even strength, as they currently rank 21st, well below the league norm at 41.9%.

Special teams are still on opposite sides of the spectrum for the Oilers

Special teams still contain a disparity between the powerplay conversion and the team’s penalty-killing ability that requires rectifying. For the league’s 26th-ranked penalty kill, a figure that has slowly trended upwards since bottoming out at 29th, the Oilers’ penalty kill is still roughly 4% below the league average.

Penalty-killing duties are primarily held by a combination of Darnell Nurse, Cody Ceci, Brett Kulak, Ryan McLeod, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evan Bouchard, Zach Hyman, and Derek Ryan. Between the members of this subpar unit, different metrics indicate who has been best or worst depending on the statistic used. Going by CF%, Bouchard has been the best on the penalty kill, while Hyman has been the worst. Hyman is also the second worst among Oiler penalty killers by XG%, suggesting a substitution may be necessary for the future. However, Ryan has been the worst, whereas Kulak has succeeded at a better rate by this metric.

The powerplay is still dominant being headlined by Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Connor McDavid; each have played above 80% of all powerplay ice time. Moreover, Tyson Barrie and Zach Hyman provide a solid indication of the ability to score when the opposition team becomes shorthanded. Interestingly, Draisaitl and McDavid have taken the most shots among all Oilers players, furthering the narrative McDavid’s shooting has evolved and become a primary asset. The Barrie versus Bouchard debate has also somewhat slowed, as Barrie has created 0.7 XG compared to Bouchard’s 0.1. Barrie proving he has been more valuable when on the man advantage, as Bouchard is also tied for the most blocked shots by opponents, even though Bouchard has only been on the ice 33% of the time.

How do the Oilers stack up individually?

Among conventional statistics, McDavid unsurprisingly leads Oiler players in categories such as goals, goals/60, assists, points, and second in time-on-ice. Nurse leads in penalty minutes and ice time, while teammate Draisaitl ranks third in ice time but second in goals and assists. On the defensive side, last season’s trade acquisition Kulak is leading his new team in shots blocked per 60.

However, two glaring aspects could contribute to the Oilers’ even-strength woes. First regards the Oilers’ lack of grit and physicality. Evander Kane has not suited up for the team in seven games, a figure that amounts to one-third of the Oiler’s games, yet he still leads the team in hits. Also, management sent the player with the third-most hits, Markus Neimaleinen, to the minors to work on positioning and offensive capabilities. The inability to generate turnovers using physical play limits the team’s capacity to dig pucks out of corners and impose their will in either the offensive or defensive zones.

The team’s lack of depth is the second glaring hole made apparent by McDavid’s scoring prowess. Never is this more apparent than seeing the Oilers only having seven players in double-digit points, two of which are defencemen and the other is injured long term. Statistics further highlight the lack of depth scoring by the lower part of the lineup and sub-league average underlying metrics.

Advanced metrics provide an increased understanding of statistics not generally reflected on the score sheet. For instance, although the Oilers as a team are not controlling the shot share, Bouchard currently leads all Oiler players in CF%, indicating he has been borderline elite at generating and suppressing shot chances at both ends of the ice.

Somewhat surprisingly, although McDavid leads the team in the shot quality metric XG%, he does not when measuring XG and XG/60. That honour belongs to his current talented and hard-nosed winger, Zach Hyman. One contributing factor to controlling a high expected goal count is reflective of the numerous opportunities Hyman receives by being the net-front presence at even strength and on the power play –filling in for Kane.

The next few games should give the Oilers a chance to improve their even strength play

Over the next two weeks, the Oilers face several subpar teams they need to beat to continue to build on the momentum gained by Saturday’s comeback against the New York Rangers and the overtime win against the Florida Panthers. An opportunity for a win streak presents itself as the Oilers will face Chicago, Montreal, Washington, Arizona, and Minnesota twice.

However, although the teams do not present as significant of a challenge, improved even-strength play will be required to ensure better overall play and the hopeful returns of four of the current top nine injured forwards.

All stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and MoneyPuck.com

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Darnell Holt

Hello, my name is Darnell Holt. I am currently an employee in the finance sector, focusing on agriculture. My background includes holding two degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, a Master of Science in Agriculture Economics and a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Business. However, I am a small-town Alberta boy with a love for analytics and a massive fandom for anything sports, especially for my home province Edmonton Oilers.

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