Edmonton Oilers – Players at evens

Which Oilers are getting dragged across the ice?

Which Oilers are getting dragged across the ice?

As Oiler fans, it’s easy to appreciate that we’re 10 games into the season and bearing witness to our current lack of roster depth in the face of some unfortunate and untimely injuries/illness.  Strudwick on the wing… Are you kidding me?  With Steve MacIntire eating up a roster spot and very little ice time, it’s not difficult to see how that’s a problem in light of our flu/injury riddled roster.

Fortunately, Scott over at the Gospel of Hockey blog as well as Dennis over at MC79Hockey have been tracking scoring chances for and against for the Edmonton Oilers.  Though 10 games alone doesn’t form the basis for particularly strong or relevant statistical analysis, I think that in the context of watching the games as well that some trends are starting to show.  For starters, let’s take a look at the recent data posted over at the Gospel of Hockey blog:

Oilers games 1 through 10 from Gospel of Hockey

Oilers games 1 through 10 from Gospel of Hockey

To start with, let’s focus on the EV%.  The EV% represents the percentage of scoring chances for relative to the total number of chances for and against while a player is on the ice.  As such, a player whose EV% is greater than 50% is generating more even strength scoring chances than they’re giving up while on the ice.

From the perspective of having watched the first ten games of this season, I see two primary problems for the Edmonton Oilers.

  1. Teams that have big defensemen like Calgary or Chicago are able to limit the number of shots from our smaller wingers from prime shot locations.
  2. Collectively our defensemen are neither particularly physical (exception being Smid) or mobile defensively (with the exception of Visnovsky).  As such, we run into difficulties with teams with fast wingers.  Strudwick in a particular along with Grebeshkov have been turned into pylons on a number of occasions.

Let’s take a look at Dennis/Scott’s data presented in a simpler ranking form which focuses on EV%.

Oilers rankings by EV% and position

Oilers rankings by EV% and position

What do these numbers tell us?

First, I would like to point out that these numbers are not presented in the context of qualcomp/qualteam which would add further relevancy.  However, as Scott mentions on his site and as I’ve seen myself, 10 games is not sufficient for the qualcomp/team numbers to really make any sense.  As Scott points out, JF Jacques has the worst qualteam on the whole team while he’s played most of his shifts with Hemsky and Horcoff.

What stands out at this point is JF Jacques is currently the lowest ranked winger by EV% on the entire team.  This seems to fit with my observations and others that Hemsky and Horcoff have been dragging him around on the first line.  Stone in comparison has fared much better though he has played against softer opposition from my observations.  I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Stone’s driving any offense, but he likely hasn’t been as disruptive to his linemates as Jacques. Hemsky and Horcoff had had their struggles, but perhaps some of this has been driven by Jacques being miscast as a first line winger.

As for defensemen, it’s not surprising to see the Lubo who’s appeared to play very well is the top-ranked player on our team currently by this metric.  Smid as well has widely been regarded to be playing better this season which is also reflected here.  As Scott mentions, Strudwick and Chorney have faced the 2nd toughest opposition (after Gilbert/Grebs) this year and also have had the worst 0ffensive to defensive zone start ratio on the team. Considering that Chorney’s a rookie and Strudwick is not particularly reliable, our coaching staff hasn’t done much to shelter them as Scott noted.  In his defense, Chorney’s been a rather pleasant surprise overall.

Overall thoughts

When you try as I do to get past the initial feelings of euphoria sparked by the Oilers start to this season, you begin to see that many of the previous problems with the current roster still persist.  First, there’s no question that this team has problems outside of Shawn Horcoff on the face-off circle.  Despite some initial success, we’ve now witnessed Cogliano win just 4/25 or 16% of his face-offs for the past two games.  Lowetide and others have long-written about the need for the Oilers to acquire a faceoff man.  Brule does offer some hope in this regard, but has not played recently due to illness.

Secondly, Pat Quinn’s attempted to solve the problem of too many small wingers with duplicate skill sets by adding some size and grit spread throughout the roster.  By the numbers Stone’s fared surprisingly well which doesn’t seem to be quite in keeping with what I’ve seen in terms of the play dying on his stick.  However, with Jacques we’re starting to see that the size/grit he brings is coming at the cost of bleeding scoring chances against.

Going forward…

There’s no question that the Oilers injury/illness problems have further exposed some of the issues with their roster.  We can expect that when Souray’s able to return, his physical presence and ability to play tougher minutes will help the team as Gilbert and Grebeshkov have struggled in this role.  A healthy Pisani could go a long way to helping this team, but that would depend on his level of play upon returning (if he returns with his old form).  What’s perhaps our biggest issue in light of the current injury/illness concerns itself is that with several players out of the lineup, we lose the ability to play with a balanced roster.  Last night for example, which line outside of the top line could really be expected to contribute offensively?

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