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.
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).
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).
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.
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 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 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.
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!