Edmonton Oilers – Exploring the shot differential puzzle?

Oilers Shot differential puzzle?

Oilers Shot differential puzzle?

Currently, the Edmonton Oilers are 6th in the Western Conference in terms of the standings.  Perhaps the most intriguing question regarding the Edmonton Oilers is how they are managing to win games despite being severely out shot as has been widely publicized.  How exactly are the Oilers managing to win games despite the large discrepancy with the shot differential?  Let’s take a look from 30,000 feet about in terms of league stats, then a closer look game by game.

Life’s this game of inches.  So is hockey.  Because in either game, life or hockey, the margin for error is so small.  I mean 1/2 step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it.  1/2 second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite get the pass.  The inches we need are everywhere around us.  They are in every break of the game and in every minute and every second…  As for the Edmonton Oilers, the question remains in terms of where they have found these inches…

By the numbers:

  • Oilers shooting percentage: 16.6% [#1 in league]
  • Oilers goaltending save percentage:  .912 SV% [11th in the league]
  • Goals per game:  3.86 [3rd in league]
  • Goals against per game: 2.86 [14th in league]
  • 5 on 5 Golas for / against ratio:  1.69 [7th in league]
  • Shots per game:  23.3 [30th in the league]
  • Shots against per game:  32.6 [24rth in the league]
  • Power play 20% [18th]
  • Penalty kill 77.8% [17th]

What do these numbers tell us?

Right off the top, two things really jump out.  First, the Edmonton Oilers currently have the highest shooting percentage in the league.  Secondly, they have the lowest number of shots per game in the league.  Already, Jonathan Willis over at Hockey or Die (The Score], has argued that many teams are benefiting from some very high and unsustainable shooting percentages.  In fact, he cites the Pittsburgh Penguins as having the highest team shooting % in the NHL last year at 10.9%.  It is extremely unlikely that the Oilers will be able to maintain a 16.6 shooting %.

On the other side of the coin, the Oilers are near the bottom of the league (24th) in terms of allowing shots against per game.  However, their current goal-tending tandem has combined for a .912 SV% which is a respectable 11th in the league at this time.  Given that the Oilers special teams are currently in the middle of the road, it seems apparent that their even strength play is largely responsible for their current success.  The Oilers are currently 7th in the league in terms of even strength goals for / goals against ratio.

Bottom line: It seems reasonable to suggest that the Oilers are benefitting from a combination of an unsustainable shooting %, strong goaltending, and strong 5v5 play.  Perhaps, Pat Quinn’s balanced scoring lines are responsible for the apparent strength at 5v5.  Last year, the Oilers even strength play was also better than their special teams.  However, is this the whole story?

Let’s take a look first at where the most common shot locations where in the NHL over the past four seasons.  Note, the most common shot locations are not surprisingly also where most goals are scored too.  This data/picture is from the Puck Prospectus website.  The orange/red zones are where most shots were taken from.  This area is primarily between the faceoff dots and above the faceoff circles.

NHL Shot locations

NHL Shot locations

Game 1 – Oilers  3 vs. Calgary 4

Edmonton vs. Calgary game 1

Edmonton vs. Calgary game 1

Of note, the Oilers actually out shot the Flames 34-21 during this game.  As well, the game was tied into the final minute of the third period until Nikolai Khabibulin mishandled the puck which lead to the winning goal by Calgary.  The above shot location graphic is from CBS Sports.com.  Approximately 9 of the Oilers shots were from prime shot locations while a similar number 9-10 of Calgary’s shots were.  ( X’s represent shots while O’s represent goals; The side of the rink with the Oilers’ logo represents the shots the Oilers took).

Game 2 Oilers 5 Stars 4 (OT)

Game 2 Oilers vs. Stars

Game 2 Oilers vs. Stars

In game 2, the Oilers were out shot 34-24 by the Dallas Stars.  As above, the Stars were able to get a number of shots off from prime scoring areas while also taking a number of shots from the point.  The Oilers had comparatively fewer shots from prime scoring locations.  Dallas was 15-9 from prime scoring locations.  (It’s hard to count when all 3 periods are displayed,  at the CBS site, you can break it down by period).

Game 3 – Oilers 3 Flames 4 (OT)

Game 3 - Oilers vs. Calgary

Game 3 - Oilers vs. Calgary

For the third game, the shot totals were dead even at 28-28.  Of note, the Oilers were still 3 shots ahead over the course of the first three games.  From this display, it appears that the Oilers and Flames shot locations were nearly mirror images.  As well, there were approximately 12-14 shots from prime locations for each team.  Further, during the two games against the Flames, there were a number of shots that either went in off of Oiler players or were redirected from shots at the point.

Game 4 – Oilers 3 Canadiens 2

Game 4 - Oilers vs. Montreal

Game 4 - Oilers vs. Montreal

The game vs. Montreal game is interesting in that it was the first of several games where the Oilers started to get out shot by their opponents.  Though there were a similar number of about 8 shots each from prime shot locations, Montreal took a huge number of shots from the perimeter and outside of the blueline.

Game 5 – Oilers 6 Predators 1

Game 5 - Oilers vs. Predators

Game 5 - Oilers vs. Predators

Game 5 vs. the Predators is the game that first drew my attention to the impact of shot location on the Oilers wins.  It looks like the Oilers had about 18-19 (nearly all) of their shots from prime scoring locations vs. approximately 20 for Nashville.  Overall, the Oilers and the Predators had a similar number of shots from high percentage locations while the Predators had an additional number of shots from lower percentage areas.

Game 6 – Oilers 3 Chicago 4

Game 6 - Oilers vs. Chicago

Game 6 - Oilers vs. Chicago

Game 6 vs. Chicago is significant in that not only did the Oilers get out shot by 19 shots, they also got severely out played and lost.  Chicago shot from anywhere and everywhere.  It’s clear that unlike the last game perhaps, the Oilers were not able to limit Chicago from shooting from prime locations.  In contrast, the Oilers were only able to get maybe 6 shots from prime scoring areas.  The Blackhawks look to have the shoot first ask questions later mentality…  Really, there’s no mystery with this game.  The Oilers were simply out played and out shot nearly 2:1.  Nikolai Khabibulin kept this game respectable with solid play in net.

Game 7 – Oilers 5 Wild 2

Game 7- Oilers vs. Wild

Game 7- Oilers vs. Wild

For game 7 vs the Wild, it’s important to consider that the struggling Wild were missing Havlat and Sykora among other key players.  The shot totals from prime locations favored the Oilers approximately 13-10 despite being out shot 31-19.


First, it’s important to note that the shot discrepancy didn’t start until game 4 of the seven games that the Oilers have played.  Secondly, it’s also important to note that part of the shot discrepancy is driven by the game vs. the Blackhawks in which the Oilers were out shot by a margin of 19 shots.  During this game they were out played and lost the game too.  Essentially, the shot differential puzzle is driven by 3 games–those vs. the Wild, Predators, and Canadiens.  Again, all three of these teams are struggling in terms of the standings.

In the three games that the Oilers were out shot yet managed to win, they either had a similar or slightly higher number of shots from prime locations while forcing the opposing teams to take shots from lower percentage locations.  In the game vs. the Minnesota Wild, the Wild were lacking some of their key players who are able to finish chances.

We can hope that the Oilers will continue to benefit from superior goaltending SV% relative to the rest of the league.  It’s possible that the Oilers have chosen to allow or force teams to take more shots from less opportune locations as part of their defensive system.  As well, it’s possible that the Oilers are consciously trying to shoot from prime shot locations which in part might explain their incredibly high shooting percent.  However, it is unlikely that they will maintain such a high shooting percent.  I’ve observed that the Oilers have made extensive use of scoring at the goalie’s back door by making cross crease passes.

As well, it’s important to note that the shot differential didn’t tilt against the Oilers until Souray was out with a concussion injury.  The Oilers have often leaned on Souray’s cannon from the point and without this option available, it’s possible that this may contribute to the Oilers declining shot tallies.

In short, though the glaring shot differential which is currently tilted against the Oilers is a concern, there’s no reason to panic yet!



7 thoughts on “Edmonton Oilers – Exploring the shot differential puzzle?

  1. You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head as to why this shot differential is happening. Most people won’t admit (or maybe realize it) but not only is Souray important to this team, but so is Staios. Staios’ shot blocking is missed, although credit to Smid/Gilbert for doing well in this area as well this year.

    At any rate, Souray and Staios are our two best defensive defencemen. And the fact that we’ve come out 3-1 with our top d-men out might be considered a miracle if three of those teams weren’t so run of the mill (read: horrible).

    I’ll say I’m worried about the defensive play of this team, without Souray/Staios (maybe even with both) and I’ve been on board with trading for a defensive d-man for a while now. I’ve beat it to death, but I wish in the off-season the Oil would have signed a guy like Boynton or some other big bruiser d-man that can skate. They dropped the ball there. The Healtey trade was an exciting idea, and I would have loved to have had him, but I think it was a distraction from the real problem.

    On the offensive side of things, this team is being successful because of the makeup of the team. I love what Quinn’s done with the forward lines. We’ve got a balanced attack of forwards and the teams we play certainly don’t have a balanced defence. So on any given night we’re going to have one line out there taking advantage of a lower-grade defence (especially the way Quinn just rolls the lines along).

    Shots aren’t everything, you know that, I know that. Anyone remember how the Oilers used to outshoot teams and not score enough goals? Or any for that matter. The Wild were a good example of that. It’s not about quantity, but quality. And well, as you pointed out, in the Montreal game, most of those shots weren’t even in quality scoring areas. The Chicago game is a whole other ball park. This team had a complete defensive meltdown. Chicago exploited this team’s weaknesses quite well and made our defense look like a junior team. I didn’t see the Wild game, but looks like the Wild got in the right areas well, so I think it’s important the Oilers regroup a bit.

    We should always note that the Oilers’ penalty kill is setup to allow a lot of shots from the outside, but prevent those dangerous chances down low. I don’t think that happened against Chicago because Souray and Staios are both SUPER critical in that role.

    I’m not overly worried about this shot differential stuff. I’m becoming less and less of a “stats guy”. I unfortunately missed the Wild game, but I’ve seen the rest of them this year. The game vs. the Blackhawks was a huge concern, but the rest of them weren’t. And even then, I had predicted failure against the Blackhawks just because their team is better suited to the style that both teams play. The Oilers are doing fine so far. They really *should* improve the team defensively, yes. And the powerplay is a bit of a concern, but we have to remember that this is a new coach and systems, and it’s not going to work out over night.

    4-2-1 right now isn’t so bad! Four games in last year, I was one of the voices telling people that MacTavish should be turfed (even before that point) and the Oilers were up 4-0. Call me fickle, but I said it because despite that the team was winning, I saw that they were doing it with a LOT of luck… they were stealing games they had no business winning. This year, I don’t see that at all. I see them in the thick of things. I see them able to win just about any game. I don’t see them winning games against teams like the Blackhawks and the Penguins (as you know, I predicted a 5-2 loss here against the Hawks). But they’ll do well against the majority of the league. They’ll keep up with the Canucks, Flames, they’ll likely pound the Wild until they improve.. they may do well against the Avs (despite their great start) and that’s what matters.

    Wow, long winded 😉 To sum – this team will be fine, but yes, some defensive help would probably be appreciated!

  2. Very cool in season analysis. I wonder if the coaches have done their homework and are preaching shooting locations? Looking over the 7 games it is too consistent a pattern to not be system related.

    Wow did JD ever play well against Nashville! They were point blank all night. When do we get to see him again?

  3. Racki, good thoughts. With Staios and Souray out, there’s also the impact on the defensive side as well with Strudwick and Chorney in. Strudwick is just plain scary to watch as an Oilers fan. He looked okay in his first two outings both defensively and occasionally carrying the puck. However, in at least his last two games, the defensive deficiencies were pretty apparent.

    Jonathan, yeah it does look like there’s a conscious attempt to encourage shots from the outside particularly on the penalty kill as Racki noted. Jacques Lemaire’s system basically allowed other teams to take a lot of shots from lower percentage locations which might in part explain why their goaltending save percentages were historically quite high.

    On the other side, it also seems like the Oilers are choosing to shoot from higher percentage locations.

  4. I wonder if the high percentage shot thing isn’t a new thing. Isn’t that one thing we always hated about MacTavish’s coaching is that this team used to pass it to death?

    Quinn also came in here saying that he thought this team would be content passing the puck into the net. Again, I don’t think it’ll be an overnight transformation. And honestly, I think I’ve seen some positive signs so far this year. Those annoying two on ones that we used to get that would end up with an Oiler passing it into the defenders body, or a pass that was too late (basically not ending up in a shot on goal)… well those are starting to disappear a bit. More often than not, I see more of a shoot-first bias.

  5. Yeah, it’s likely that many of the old habits are still there as many Oilers have made reference to trying to break the bad habits from last year. Actually, when they refer to breaking the bad habits from last year, it sounds that they mean habits that they were coached into, doesn’t it?

    This year, mostly where you see the Oilers trying to pass the puck into to the net seems to be on the power play to me. On the rush, it looks like we’re making smarter decisions to just shoot if the pass just isn’t there. However, they’ve also been decent at making the cross crease pass for the one timer in the back door.

    This year, I think they’ve also had a lot of shots that just don’t seem to make it to the net from lower percentage areas–particularly vs. Calgary.

    Also, some of the grinders have done a good job this year at going to the net and finding the rebounds.

  6. Pingback: What is all this fuss about the Edmonton Oilers getting outshot? | Edmonton Journal

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