What’s happened to the strong Oilers attack? And what can Edmonton do about it?
The Edmonton Oilers’ offensive game has crumbled in most recent dozen games, getting downgraded from a Tiger Tank to a pop gun.
Indeed, just now this is team in crises when it comes to generating offence, an issue that has so far been masked by hot goaltending, strong special teams, some good puck luck and a winning record of seven wins and five losses in that 12 game stretch.
But the shot metrics all tell the same sad story.
When it comes to Grade A scoring chances, as measured at the Cult of Hockey, the Oilers dropped from 12.7 per game in the first 30 games to 7.8 Grades As in the past 12 games.
If you don’t put much stock in our work, the official NHL shot metrics tell a similar story of collapse. In its first 30 games, the Oilers average 32 shots per game. In the last 12 games, just 25 shots per game.
Natural Stat Trick also counts up high-danger scoring chance shots, all shots directed towards net from the home plate area in the offensive slot.
According to that site’s data, in the first 30 games, Edmonton had 12.7 high danger chances per game, the exact same rate as we charted at the Cult of Hockey.
But in the last 12 games, their count shows an even bigger crash in Edmonton’s attack than we found, down to 7.1 high-danger chances per game.
Edmonton is also scoring less, with 3.33 goals per game in the first 30 games, 2.83 per game in the last 12.
We can also see this collapse in shot metric percentages. Comparing the first 30 games to the most recent 12, Edmonton has gone from: 50 ShotsFor% to 45%; a 53 High-Danger Chances For% to 40%; a 56 Grade A ChancesFor% to a 41%; and a 53 Goals For% to a 51%.
That’s a lot of numbers. Add it all up and this team, outside of its still brilliant power play, is in crises on the attack.
OK, but who cares? The team is still winning
Just now I hear someone on Twitter snipe: “What of it? Who cares? The team is still winning.”
And fair enough.
Despite getting crushed in every shot metric, the team has still managed to win. It’s a solid enough rejoinder to all my numbers.
But I suspect that if the Oilers can turn-around their shot metrics, they’re gong to start losing. They’re certainly not going to win in the playoffs. You just can’t beat the other buys consistently if they’re getting six out of every 10 Grade A scoring chances, not unless their goalie is crap and your goalie is the Second Coming of Grant Fuhr.
Earlier this year when Edmonton was consistently out-chancing the opposition, I was far more bullish about the squad. But now I wonder what Coach Dave Tippett can do to beef up the attack. It’s clear that his Plan A stopped working, meaning the top lines of Leon Draisaitl, Dominik Kahun and Kailer Yamamoto on one line and Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi, have lacked chemistry and haven’t gotten it done.
But Plan B, which Tippett has resorted to repeatedly in the past 12 games, has also come up far shot. In fact, when at least when it comes to the flow of play and scoring chances, it’s backfired.
- Reunited the Dynamite Line of Draisaitl, RNH and Yamamoto. This was the best line in the NHL last year. Why not go back to it?
- Keep McDavid and Puljujarvi together, but try audition of number of other wings, including Kahun, Tyler Ennis, Zack Kassian, Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody and Ryan McLeod. I know some of you are skeptical about these names, but consider that Pittsburgh won the Cup in 2015-15 after it promoted two unknown and unheralded 23-year-old wingers, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust, from the American Hockey League at midseason and plunked them into prominent jobs. One year later, the Penguins did the same, promoting 21-year-old Jake Guentzel at midseason and watching him go on a playoff run. Could Benson and Marody be the Sheary and Rust of these 2021 Oilers? We’ll never know if the Oilers do not give them that chance.
- Play Evan Bouchard. Yes, the Oilers need to be able to defend. But Bouchard may well be the most offensively gifted d-man on this team. On that team now hungering for more on offence, he could well be part of the solution. But, again, we’ll never know if he’s not given the opportunity.