6 numbers and 6 opinions about 6 weird periods of Oilers hockey

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Published Oct 15, 2023  •  Last updated 5 hours ago  •  8 minute read

Oilers Edmonton Oilers netminders have endured a steady diet of opponents crowding their crease. Photo by Derek Cain /Getty Images

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It’s 2 games into the 2023-24 season, and Oil Country is in a tizzy. The local heroes have stumbled out of the gate, losing a pair of games in Opposite George fashion to the same opponent. They suffered their worst defeat in 8 seasons when they fell 8-1 in the season opener at Vancouver, then dominated the play in the return match in Edmonton without anything to show for it in a 4-3 regulation loss.

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2 games is a tiny sample which, as Zach Hyman said in the aftermath of Saturday’s loss, would be a blip in mid-season. For now, though, it’s all that we have. This particular tiny sample is especially fraught with outliers which can be fun (or in this case, “fun”) to consider, secure in the knowledge that they are certain to regress towards the mean.

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Let’s pick out a few of the weirder numbers, mix in some related observations, draw some (preliminary!) conclusions about what they do or don’t tell us, and then jump straight to opinions.

1 for, 8 against

The 8-1 beatdown the Oilers suffered in Game 1 has been described as “one of those games that every team encounters over the course of a season, it just stands out because it occurred in Game 1”. In truth it was Edmonton’s worst loss in any regular season game since 2015-16, when they similarly absorbed an 8-1 pounding at New York Islanders in Game 54. They haven’t taken a worse beating since 7 seasons before that, when they lost 10-2 to the Sabres in January of 2009.

How uncommon are such one-sided results? Reviewing all 1312 game scores from 2022-23, I learned that a 7-goal difference was the largest of the entire campaign league-wide! Happened 9 times: 9-2 (once), 8-1 (2x) or 7-0 (6x). The teams on the short end of those drubbings weren’t exactly Murderers’ Row: Anaheim, Arizona, Buffalo, Columbus (2x), Montreal, Nashville, Ottawa, Philadelphia. Not a one of them made the playoffs. Ugh.

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So happens that 1 for, 8 against is also Edmonton’s cumulative result in 5v5 play, 89 minutes over the 2 games. Their 11.1% goal share is better than Washington 0% (shut out in their only game to date), while the Oilers’ raw goal differential of -7 at 5v5 ranks dead last.

Opinion: Wowsa. There are bad starts and there is whatever Edmonton has done this past week, especially in Game 1. The small sample caveat is fully in effect of course, but when your opening night loss is more one-sided than 99.3% of all results from the previous season, well that’s… not good.

Penalty kill clearance rate = 55.6%

9 times shorthanded, 4 goals against. Here we go again.

A year ago, the Oilers penalty kill was killing them at the start of the season, but gradually moved up the charts as the campaign progressed. Split into quarters:

Oilers PK splits 2022-23

After giving up nearly a goal per game in the first half of the season, the Oilers slashed 12 goals against off their total in the second half. Better still, they became a deadly threat the other way, ultimately leading the NHL in shorthanded goals. Their net differential improved by 20 goals, from -33 in the first half to -13 in the second, and their net rank soared from 25th to 6th, ultimately landing in 14th not bad after their brutal start. Along the way, additions such as Mattias Janmark (Game 15), Vincent Desharnais (Game 43), Mattias Ekholm (Game 62) and Nick Bjugstad (Game 64) all chipped in to the unit’s improving performance.

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But for all the progress the Oilers made over the course of 2022-23, they are starting the new campaign right back at rock bottom. Some fundamentals are missing, such as filling the shooting lanes, lifting opponents’ sticks in front, or not screening their own goaltender in a failed attempt to front the shot. And not a hint of danger the other way just yet.

Opinion: It’s right back to Square One for this unit. Unlike the PP which is a consistent force from each season to the next, Edmonton’s PK unit is like one of Forrest Gump’s chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.

Beyond-brutal shooting / save percentages

  • Team save percentage = .750

It’s been very consistent across the board. In Game 1, Jack Campbell stopped 12 of 16 shots (.750) in 27½ minutes; then Stuart Skinner stopped 12 of 16 shots (.750) in relief as the Canucks kept on coming. In Game 2, Skinner got the start and went the whole way, stopping 12 of 16 shots (.750). Sound familiar?

In 89 minutes of 5v5 play, Edmonton’s goalies have stopped 24 of 32 shots (.750). In 13 minutes shorthanded, they’ve stopped 11 of 15 (.733). And in 31½ minutes with the score tied, they’ve stopped 9 of 13 (.692).

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That too is not good. It’s not even bad. It is ugly, ugly, ugly. Among all the tiny samples elsewhere in the league, LA Kings are second worst in all-situation save percentage at .821, while the Toronto Maple Leafs are next worst at 5v5 with .837. Even those lousy numbers are miles ahead of Edmonton.

  • 5v5 shooting percentage = 2.4%

This from the team with the perennial top-two scorers in the league, though when stated at 5v5 their common superpower — the powerplay — is omitted by definition. Still, one would expect a club with such high end talent and proven supporting cast to convert more than 1 (one) of 42 shots. Make it 1 of 47 (2.1%) at even strength, which include 5 more fruitless shots in 2:22 with the extra attacker on Saturday.

  • Shooting plus save percentages (PDO) = 0.774

A further proof of the extreme lows the Oilers have experienced at both ends of the ice so far combines Sh% + Sv% into a single number dubbed PDO. It’s the most volatile of stats, but hugely important in the short term. The team with the higher PDO wins by far the majority of individual games.

The team with the most shots? Not so much. It’s all about converting those shots.

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Consider a team that scores on 10% of its shots, but allows goals at a similar rate (.900 Sv%). That yields a PDO of 1.000 which would always land a team mid-pack; last season, for example, Florida (1.003) and Buffalo (0.997) straddled the midpoint at #16 and 17 respectively. More interesting is the narrowness of the entire range: Boston far out in front at 1.036 but the rest constrained between 1.015 (Islanders) and 0.978 (CBJ). The Oilers were solidly in the top half of the league at 1.006,

Whereas 2/82 of the way into the season, the Oilers 5v5 PDO is (drum roll) .750+.024=0.774.

Seven. Seventy. Four. Admire it while it lasts, fellow PDO geeks, we may never see its like again. (Nor Vancouver’s reflective 1.226 for that matter.)

Second worst 5v5 PDO in the entire NHL right now is Calgary’s .916, which is a long, long way from .774, nearly three times closer to the median.

Opinion: This is so obviously an extreme outlier as to be safely ignored, other than to draw the conclusion that shooting “luck” (as some consider PDO) has not been on Edmonton’s side so far.

I’m confident the goals will come in time, but have bigger concerns about defensive issues which are not all on the goaltenders. Like the other “goalie boxcars” — goals against average and wins — save percentage is also a team stat. The Oilers committed some absolute howlers on defence and the Canucks enjoyed a little puck luck in the 2-game set. I would infer that some portion of the crummy results can be attributed to a series of defensive gaffes, such as a pair of uncontested mid-air deflections and a 2-on-0 breakaway that cost the Oil the first 3 goals on Saturday. On a different night 1 of those deflections would have caught the goalie’s shoulder and the other harmlessly skittered wide and so on. But at some point, preferably real soon, the squad is going to need some saves.

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Suffice to say that when the other team is converting 25% of their shots and yours just 2.4%, you would need to outshoot them by a ratio of 10:1 just to get within shouting distance. Not often one sees a full order of magnitude relationship in team results such as these, and indeed it would go unnoticed in most 2-game spans that weren’t numbered 1 and 2. But here we are, 0-2 with a league-worst 6.00 GAA and 2 days off between games, so we might as well explore it.

Independent opinion: my friend Darcy “Woodguy” McLeod is on the exact same page, as per this tweet that landed while I was working up this post.

Woodguy PDO

0-0-0

That’s the current “boxcar” (G-A-P) line for all 14 Oilers skaters who do not identify as first unit powerplayers. That unit has scored 3 of Edmonton’s 4 goals with the man advantage, and 3 of its members combined on the lone even-strength tally to date. Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have 3 points each, and have combined to score all 4 of the goals.

Otherwise, bupkis.

Zilch from the scoring wingers, goose eggs from the bottom six, diddly-squat from the d-corps.

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Opinion: Not scoring is one thing. It’s quite another when the guys not scoring also make key mistakes on goals against, as Zach Hyman, Darnell Nurse and Connor Brown respectively did on the second, third and fourth Vancouver goals on Saturday night. Meanwhile Evander Kane is rocking a dash-5 to punctuate his own line of zeroes. All of these guys have proven to be fairly reliable producers over the years, just not yet this year. Which need I remind, is 2 admittedly unsettling games deep.

1-2-3, -4, who are we for? Connor! Connor!

Weird boxcar line for the league’s leading light, as McDavid has been involved in all 3 of Edmonton’s powerplay goals while shooting blanks at even strength. During his 30 minutes at 5v5, the Oilers had 41 of 58 shot attempts including a 17-9 edge in shots on goal and somehow got outscored 0-4. At this moment in time McDavid’s personal PDO stands at .556. This from a player who has been comfortably north of 1.000 for 7 straight seasons, due to his consistent ability to create above-average shots by himself or teammates.

Opinion: A PDO of .556? For Connor McDavid of all people?? This is the exact moment that we should recognize and acknowledge once and for all, our descent into the absurd. The results are the results, but in such a small sample are fun (or “fun”) to play with while in no way predictive of what is to come.

Which is just as well for Oil fans, just saying.

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