Early in the season, I was pretty optimistic because the Oilers were hanging around with the opposition and, if not for some spotty goaltending, would have gotten some results. Their Corsi% when the score was close was really good – through the game with Pittsburgh, they were putting up a 48.4% Corsi% in that situation. (Score close means that the game’s within a goal in the first two periods or tied in the third.)
If Dallas Eakins’ team had simply accomplished that over the course of a full season, I’d be ready to call his first season a success. It would have been the best Corsi% in close situations by an Oiler team in the seven years for which we have this data and a monstrous step forward from last year’s disastrous 43.4% Corsi% in these situations. If you tacked five points onto the Corsi%, you could reasonably say that the ship had turned and was heading in the right direction.
Over the last 15 games though, it’s been worse than last year. The Oilers have a 41.1% Corsi% in close situations starting with the game against the Islanders. This should go without saying but you cannot expect to have any sort of success doing that. Get outshot 59-41 when the score’s close and the odds are you aren’t going to be on the happy side of things when the score’s no longer close.
One of the popular theories as to what’s wrong with the Oilers relates to their having played a lot of games against the Eastern Conference. I don’t really buy it. I went through and created a weighted Corsi% for the Oilers’ opponents in the first seven games and the last fifteen games. I weighted each opponent’s Corsi% close based on the percentage of Corsi% close events that occurred in that game. For example, Winnipeg’s got a 48.1% Corsi% close right now. There were 61 Corsi events when the Oilers-Jets game was close. There were 351 Corsi events in the first seven games with the score close. That’s 17.37% of the Corsi events in that period. 17.37% * 48.1% = .0835. Repeat etc.
If you do this, you find that the weighted Corsi% close of the Oilers opponents during their first seven games was 48.9%. In the next fifteen games, it works out to 50.6%. The opposition got about two points tougher. The Corsi% in close situations dropped 7.3 points. This doesn’t really make sense to me.
If you look at it on an individual basis, it gets weirder:
There were a lot of really good signs from individual players early in the year. Hall was really dominant after his disastrous two games at centre – the Oilers got out-Corsid with the game close 24-10 with Hall at centre. When he moved to the wing, they went 56/44 with him on the ice and the score close in the next five games. Since then – and I recognize he’s coming off an injury – he’s Lennart Petrell, who posted a 38% Corsi% with the score close during 2011-13. This is a problem.
There’ve been whispers of changes in how the Oilers approach things from a tactical perspective and I wonder if this links back to that. Dallas Eakins mentioned during a media availability that they’d changed things in the defensive zone and abandoned the much discussed swarm. The time period that he suggested that the change was made roughly corresponds to the point between the Pittsburgh game and the Islanders game. I’ve felt, watching the games, like we’re seeing the Oilers forecheck much less aggressively and basically let the opposition come to them, in addition to there seeming to be little beyond gunning the puck out of their own end when they do get control of it.
I don’t trust my eyes enough to say for sure that this is the case – I have to sit down and re-watch games in order to get comfortable with that, contrasting what was happening earlier with what’s happening now in order to get comfortable being sure about that. That being said, it sure does seem like something was changed and, whatever it was and whatever Eakins and Craig MacTavish say, it’s hard to get the sense watching the Oilers that they’re getting closer to a breakthrough. The numbers say they’re going backwards.Email Tyler Dellow at email@example.com