I think I follow a pretty relaxed group of people when it comes to the Oilers on Twitter. I’ll generally watch games with the Twitter on, bantering back and forth with people as it goes. Twitter is more of an echo chamber than most of the internet, in that you can pick who you’re following, so your stream of viewpoints can be kind of tailored to people who share opinions that you don’t violently disagree with.
In my case, in addition to some writers, it tends to be people who I think are pretty sensible about hockey. That means the sort of people who don’t get worked up about a single win or loss or even a string of them but try to keep an eye on the big picture, looking for things like “Is the team playing well?”
Even amongst those people, I’m starting to sense a certain tension at the inability of the Oilers to blow the doors off of a few teams and enjoy some laughers. I’ve also noticed some muttering about the inability of the Oilers to generate shots. We haven’t been able to publish Dennis’ game by game chance counts yet because Vic Ferrari’s site has yet to be updated – the hockey scoring chance movement has a pretty fragile base that’s largely dependent on the goodwill/coding prowess of one man who sometimes disappears from the internet for months at a time.
Dennis has been tweeting out his chance counts during the games as the season’s gone and they paint an awfully different picture from that of the shots. He didn’t see the Calgary game but I’ve seen other chance counts from people who I trust that put it about 15-10 for Calgary, which I’ve used as a proxy. You can see the disconnect between the shots and the chances – the Oilers have had about 44.7% of the shots and 51.2% of the chances. We know that Corsi (and shots) and scoring chances tend to converge over the course of a season so this gives rise to a potentially uncomfortable question: which is the real number right now, in the sense of telling us more about this Oilers team? The shots number (bad) or the chance number (not bad)?
Unfortunately, because Vic has yet to set up the chance site for this year, we can’t do a breakdown of chances versus Corsi to get an idea of which players are responsible for this disconnect. I’ve got a reasonable suspicion as to what’s going on though. David Staples tracks Neilson numbers and, while they’re a dubious concept, you can’t get a Neilson + without a scoring chance being created. Here’s what the centres and wingers look like through ten games:
RNH – 4.73
Gagner – 3.56
Belanger – 1.82
Horcoff – 1.48
Hall – 5.71
Eberle – 4.45
Hemsky – 3.02
Hartikainen – 2.76
Paajarvi - 2.43
Petrell – 2.32
Smyth – 2.04
It’s about what you’d expect. The Kid Line looks fantastic, then Hemsky/Gagner and then the rest. Now let’s look at the Corsi numbers for the forwards, as of the end of the Columbus game:
You’ll notice that Hemsky and Gagner are getting killed in terms of their Corsi. In fact, they have amongst the worst Corsi For rates on the team. I doubt that their rates of scoring chances are so low – I’d guess that the best rates of chances for belong to the Kid Line and that Hemsky and Gagner are 4/5 or 5/4. As a result, I think that it’s likely that the answer to the question “Why is the Oilers ES shot share so much lower than their ES scoring chance share?” is something like “Hemsky and Gagner are generating chances but not shot attempts.”
Hemsky and Gagner both have a track record of posting respectable Corsi numbers as seen above, so I’d be surprised if this continues. That’s why I’m inclined to believe more in the chances at this point than I am the shooting numbers – I figure they’ll both start to post better Corsis. I do wonder why their Corsi For numbers are so low though and wonder if some of it has to do with Yakupov. Yakupov has a similarly low Corsi For number, although he doesn’t have the big Corsi Against number that Hemsky and Gagner have, which is likely to do with him sitting out some defensive zone faceoffs and late in games when the Oilers are protecting a lead and not pressing.
I haven’t sat down and ground through video or anything, but I have been kind of struck watching the Gagner/Yakupov/Hemsky trio that Yakupov seems to sort of wander around the ice at ES, not really consistently getting into places where the puck might come to him, whether to shoot it or to keep the play going in the offensive end of the ice. There are moments where he finds holes and makes a chance happen but they aren’t as frequent as they will be.
His ES shooting rate is pretty abysmal – he’s taking about 5.5 5v5 S/60, which is an incredibly low number for any player, let alone an offensive player who scores goals. If you assume that he’s a guy who’s going to be a volume shooter, which I think is reasonable, I’d bet that number’s going to look ridiculously low for him awfully quickly.
Taylor Hall’s first 13 games in the NHL didn’t see him shooting at the rate he posted for the year – he took 8.1 S/60 and ended the year at 9.3 S/60. He is currently taking 12.3 S/60 at 5v5 and took 9.8 S/60 last year. I doubt that that’s all due to physical development, particularly the in-season development in his rookie season – there’s probably some in-season learning going on that enables him to generate shots at a higher rate as he learns how to make use of his physical abilities in the NHL. Yakupov’s going to have to go through the same process, I’d guess.
It’s also probably worth mentioning that the Gagner line has been sheltered at home of late. Krueger was able to do that a bit earlier on, before Shawn Horcoff broke his knuckle and various Edmonton scribes began to dance on Ryan Smyth’s grave. Last night, they played more than 70% of their TOI against the Stars’ top two lines. That can’t help either.
It’s probably worth paying attention to the Gagner line for the next few games, to see whether they can start to turn the Corsi around and, if not, why they’re struggling with it. Given their history, I’m reasonably confident that they’ll turn it around but, if they continue to struggle, it might be worth looking at dropping Yakupov down the batting order a bit at ES while he figures things out and giving them a winger who’s got some more professional experience.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org