Further to yesterday’s post, I dug a little deeper into the Oilers’ PP and PK of late at 5v4 (I’ll use PP and 5v4 interchangeably in this post). As I discussed at some length, I’m a bit skeptical of the tendency of commentators to talk about faceoffs as an issue of some importance. I was talking with a friend a few months ago about TV commentary and he made the astute point that there are constantly mistakes being made and things happening during a hockey game, the vast majority of which have no real meaning in the grander scheme of things, but they’re easy to point to when something that does matter in the grand scheme of things, like a goal, happens. So, a team with a few injured centres loses a couple of faceoffs and “TRADE FOR A CENTRE” becomes a talking point, even though you’re going to lose a ton of faceoffs over the course of the season.
The Oilers started running out of centres in the Vancouver game, which they started without Eric Belanger, who broke some toes against Colorado. Shawn Horcoff broke a knuckle in that game, which left the Oilers even lighter in the faceoff department, with only two proven NHL centres in the form of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner, neither of whom are known for their faceoff prowess.
In the four games starting with the Vancouver game, Edmonton’s spent 14.98 minutes at 5v4, while the opposition has spent 18.47 minutes at 5v4. The Oilers have spent 52.2% of their 5v4 time in the opponent’s end of the ice and allowed the opposition to spend 60.0% of their time in the Oilers’ end of the ice. Basically, there are five ways that you can move the puck into the other team’s end of the ice on a power play: a faceoff in their end (such as at the start of a PP), by carrying the puck in, by dumping it in, by already having it there when a power play starts, such as when a penalty expires and by the defending team moving the puck backwards. I broke the Oilers and their opposition’s zone entries on the PP over the last four games down into these five types.
Obviously, winning a faceoff is preferable to losing a faceoff in the offensive zone during a PP, because if you lose it, you’re probably moving 200 feet back down the ice. The Oilers have won 55% of their PP offensive zone faceoffs during the past four games; the opposition has won 71.5% of their PP offensive zone faceoffs. So are Ray Ferraro and the CBC guy who was muttering about this right?
Not exactly. Here’s the thing: you’re going to lose offensive zone faceoffs on the PP. In fact, last year, the team on the PP won about 52% of them. Both the Oilers and the opposition are out-performing that number on the PP over the past four games; the opposition’s killing it. If the Oilers win 55% of faceoffs in a league in which 52% is the norm, it’s hard to say that their injury problems are hurting them in terms of their ability to win faceoffs on the PP. You might have a better argument on the penalty kill, particularly because Belanger missed two of these games and Horcoff missed about 3.5 and those are their two primary PK faceoff guys. The sample is, of course, tiny.
It’s the second two sets of numbers that catch my eye and, in particular, the carry numbers. I define a carry as any attempt to enter the zone with control and a success as being establishing control of the puck in the offensive zone. So, if Justin Schultz passes the puck to Ales Hemsky as he’s crossing the blue line and Hemsky gains control, that’s a successful carry, even though it was passed in. If he passes the puck to Hemsky, who touches it as he’s crossing the blue line, inside the offensive zone, but Hemsky never gains control, it’s unsuccessful. I did the same breakdown with the OIlers and Sharks for their games between 2008-12 (when the Sharks were awesome on the PP and the Oilers terrible) and came up with this, from 16 games:
You’ll note that the Oilers were actually pretty similar to the Sharks, at around 75% when they carried the puck in, despite the Oilers being a generally horrible PP team over that span and San Jose being a fantastic one. Over the last four games, the Oilers have managed to carry the puck into the offensive zone successfully on 58.8% of their attempts and the opposition has done so at an 86.1% clip. I suspect that this is a far more significant issue than the faceoff issue – there have been 51 attempted entries by carrying the puck to just 20 by way of a faceoff and the success rate is far below even the Oilers’ own poor historic standard.
Dumping the puck in is a lot more random, which becomes clear to you when you watch zone entries for a while – the puck is whacked in, the other side frequently gets there first and tries to whack it out and sometimes they succeed. It’s a less important skill because it happens less often but one of my anecdotal observations when doing this with the Sharks/Oilers over a four year span was that San Jose (who were markedly better at this than Edmonton) seemed to run dump-in plays far more often than the Oilers, for whom it was sort of part of a progression – if you get to the opposing blue line with no obvious way to carry it in, dump it in. San Jose would have Ryane Clowe plowing down the wing and then rip the puck around the boards towards him.
The numbers here for dump-ins are so small that they aren’t really worth getting worked up about but, again, Edmonton’s been less successful than the opposition and, anecdotally, I can tell you that Edmonton still sort of seems to be using dump-ins as a “Oh crap, I don’t know” fallback.
I made notes as I was doing this as to who attempted to enter the defensive zone on the PP for the Oilers and, while my notes aren’t perfect, it looks like this is more of an issue with the putative first PP unit, with a core of RNH-Hall-Eberle-Schultz than it is for the Hemsky-Gagner-Yakupov grouping. Nothing precise but the second unit looks to be about 10% more likely to gain the zone than the first unit which roughly fits with what my eyes have been telling me. The first unit looks to me to be a bit more out of sync and a bit less likely to bring some trickery to play – they’re big fans of letting Hall wind up around the Oilers blue line and roar into the teeth of the defence. The second unit’s a bit more likely to use varied pace and puck movement to try and create an opening.
It’s been a pretty chaotic season for the Oilers so far, with their 13th game in 23 days coming tomorrow and basically no training camp. This will, I think, be something to watch for tomorrow night against Dallas and then again on Saturday against Colorado, to see if the three days without any games provides them with some opportunity to address this issue.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org