Edmonton Oilers

Looking at the Edmonton Oilers advanced stats through Game 4

It’s been a wild series with lots of drama, back and forth action, overtime finishes, and officiating controversies. Yet here we find ourselves, with the series between the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings tied 2–2 headed into Game 5.

The defensively stout Kings have made things difficult for the high flying Oilers. The Kings power play, buoyed by an advantage of opportunities, has held even against the Oilers historic power play. At 5v5, the Kings have effectively withstood the raging storm of an offensive attack headed by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Joonas Korpisalo has stood tall in net for the Kings, taking on references to his play in many post game interviews.

Through the first four games of the series, the Oilers have indeed carried the bulk of the play, something that is of little solace to the scoreboard. With that being said there are still a number of trends that we can discern or infer from some advanced stats through game 4.

Advanced stats through Game 4

This chart, sorted by expected goals for, shows us a bouquet of metrics we can use to evaluate even strength success. For the most part the columns, featuring expected goals, Corsi, scoring chances, and high danger scoring chances are fairly congruent with each other, though there are some interesting discrepancies between them with certain players.

How does goaltending compare between the two teams?

The first thing that jumps out should be how the Oilers are ahead of the Kings in these metrics, occupying the bulk of the top half of the chart. The Kings have been opportunistic in taking advantage of their opportunities, and effective at employing a “bend but don’t break” style of defence that might limit goals versus expected goals. Perhaps the explanation is as simple as highlighting the exceptional play of Korpisalo. 

Meanwhile, the Oilers duo of Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell have been solid overall. Despite Skinner’s being pulled early in Game 4, Campbell helped back the Oilers to a series tying win. For now we should expect the Oilers to return to Skinner, but as good of a season that the rookie has had, he can’t bring the Oilers to the Cup alone.

Without a true Vezina candidate, the Oilers strength in net will rely on both their goalies contributing, hopefully picking up the slack for each other when one or the other falters. As much as the signing of Campbell is highly scrutinised he will remain a valuable contributor for the team. In all honesty, Oilers fans should focus less on Campbell’s individual cap hit and more on the combined cap hit of what is a fairly reasonable tandem.

Oilers forward depth leads the way

With goaltending to the side there are a few interesting trends within this data. For starters, Derek Ryan leads all skaters in 5v5 expected goals percentage, speaking to the effectiveness that he and fellow winger Klim Kostin have had during their time with one of Draisaitl or McDavid alongside. The 11 forward lineup utilised so effectively by Coach Jay Woodcroft has truly shown its merits here, with Woodcroft making sure to point out that he used the Draisaitl–Ryan–Kostin combination in a late season game against the Kings to great effectiveness.

In some sense, together Ryan and Kostin bring everything one could want to the table. Ryan is a savvy veteran, adept at staying a step ahead of the play. This allows for his skills as a checker and playmaker to make up for his lack of physical prowess. Meanwhile, Kostin has all the physical tools one could hope for, and has been better at bringing a consistent application of that force on a night to night basis during his time with the Oilers. When paired with one of the world’s finest players, like McDavid or Draisaitl, this duo is elevated. With most of their time spent with the puck or in favourable positions, Ryan and Kostin are well supported, clearly bringing out their best.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Oilers bottom six, the checking line of Warren Foegele, Nick Bjugstad, and Ryan McLeod has been quite effective. Lines with McLeod and Foegele have been dominant possession lines for much of the season, and Bjugstad is well equipped to boost the line further with what is likely the best hockey of his career. With two expected goals allowed or less per 60 minutes, this line has delivered on their checking reputations and limited the Kings chances.

In general, it is interesting that the Oilers depth has outplayed the Kings depth in the series, an area that many would have given the Kings the edge in heading into the playoffs. If anything, this serves as a credit to the Oilers roster construction, and GM Ken Holland, that the Oilers have built a forward group able to accomplish this. The Kings third and fourth lines occupy the bottom of this chart, being hemmed in despite the pre series expectations.

Oilers defenders not far behind

The Oilers defencemen are led by the sparsely used Philip Broberg. Broberg had a strong showing when in the lineup this season, and is continuing to do so in the playoffs, on his weak side no less. Fellow right side defender Vincent Desharnais has taken a few penalties and had some human moments in the series, though still grading out well by expected goals. As Woodcroft did in Game 4, we should expect Broberg to earn more and more of the even strength minutes of the two, leaving Desharnais as the circumstantial adjustment.

Illustrated by his strong defensive numbers here, Desharnais is quite effective in late game defensive situations as well as on the penalty kill, but Broberg is clearly the superior player overall. Broberg is still a bit inexperienced at the NHL level, but he has earned more minutes as the series draws on. At some point in the next two seasons Broberg is likely to assert himself as one of the Oilers top four options.

Brett Kulak, the main partner for both Broberg and Desharnais, has experienced strong results. Perhaps overqualified for third pair duties, this should not come as too much of a surprise. Once again the theme of the Oilers depth having a strong series is present.

Meanwhile, Darnell Nurse has been used in the offensive zone often, but is authoring a dominant series by expected goals. There have been momentary lapses on the penalty kill especially, but Nurse’s contributions are not to be overlooked, especially when compared to those of partner Cody Ceci. If there was any doubt which player was leading the pair it should be no longer, though unfortunately many will be unable to recognize Nurse’s effectiveness around his cap hit.

Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard are worthy of being thought of as the Oilers top pair at this point. The fantastic synergy and blend of skills between the two has been a revelation for the Oilers. The duo hasn’t dominated in expected goals percentage but has handled some of the toughest minutes on the team. Still their numbers hold up well here.

Oilers top six fall behind

Unexpectedly, this has been the area leaving more to be desired for the Oilers, though this is likely due to the Kings impressive defensive performance than it is shortcoming on the oilers part. Leon Draisaitl has continued his playoff excellence, and McDavid is still generating a great deal of offence himself. Both have had to deal with Selke worthy centres in Philip Danault and Anze Kopitar, the best one-two punch of defensive centremen league-wide.

Their wingers are affected by this as well, with Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and especially Kailer Yamamoto lagging behind in expected goals percentage. These forwards are still controlling play more than their L.A. counterparts, and the Kings top six must be commended for their incredible efforts thus far.

From the Kings side

Since his acquisition at the trade deadline, Vladislav Gavrikov has been an expected goals superstar with defence partner Matt Roy. The two have continued their outstanding partnership with a strong performance through four games. The middle of the Kings lineup has been strong, with the likes of Gabe Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Victor Arvidsson, and Trevor Moore performing quite well.

The top portion of the Kings lineup, the Kopitar and Danault lines, as well as the defence pairing of Drew Doughty and Mickey Anderson, have not performed well by means of expected goals. With their hands being full with handling McDavid and Draisaitl—perhaps this is as good a job as can be expected—some productive power play performances in this group have been crucial to the Kings success.

The Kings fourth line of Rasmus Kupari, Carl Grundstrom, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, as well as their third pair of Sean Durzi and Alex Edler, have been overwhelmed at even strength. Both offensively and defensively these groups have been outmatched, perhaps due to the lineup possibilities afforded by an 11 forward–7 defencemen setup utilised by Woodcroft. With one of McDavid or Draisaitl taking shifts on the fourth line, as well as the Oilers third line playing at a high level, the Kings depth has been victimised.

Is great even strength play enough to win?

While the Oilers have dominated the flow of even strength play through stats like expected goals percentage, the victor is determined by actual goals. The Kings have done well to counter punch the Oilers control of play with opportunistic scoring and strong defence, not to mention a disparity of power play opportunities.

The Kings are aware that this will be their recipe to success, and comfortable in being patient in this style of play, making them formidable opponents. 

In what is now a best of three series, Oiler fans should feel good about their teams chances. In all the Oilers are playing well and to their strengths, and more often than not should come out on top of this matchup. With a dedication to discipline and a maintained intensity, the Oilers should be able to prevail in the series, though should does little in actuality. The games ahead will be hotly contested, and Oilers players shouldn’t be resting on their laurels, but the Oilers process is up to task.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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