On February 29, 2012, the Oilers hosted the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis scored 59 seconds into the game, made it 2-0 at 2:05 of the second and, with the exception of about a four minute stretch late in the second and early in the third, maintained at least a two goal lead throughout the game as they coasted to a 5-2 win over the Oilers.
On December 21, 2013, the Oilers hosted the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis scored at 11:57 of the first to take a lead that they would never give up. They scored at 5:50 of the second and proceeded to shut out the Oilers 6-0 by adding four goals in the third period.
Taylor Hall had two different nights. On February 29, he played 15.7 5v5 minutes and was on the ice for 20 shot attempts for and 11 shot attempts against, a 64.5% Corsi%. On December 21, he played 11.3 5v5 minutes and was on the ice for 7 shot attempts for and 11 shot attempts against, a 33.3% Corsi%. This – a game in 2011-13 in which Hall was at or above 55% in Corsi% that can be paired up with a game in 2013-14 (in terms of opponent and location) in which he was at or below 45% in Corsi% has become a depressingly common phenomenon.
I wanted to drill into the St. Louis games in more detail, which required some painful data gathering. Not only did I have to re-watch Hall’s shifts in those games through the clunky NHL interface, but I had to record what was going on when Hall on the ice in terms of where the puck is and what was going on. Let’s start with that simple issue: when Taylor Hall was on the ice at 5v5 in these games, where was the puck?
Wow – that’s pretty similar. Slightly more time in the neutral zone when things went badly for him but just a few percentage points. The puck spent an oppressive 48.1% of the time in the defensive zone in each game. Hard to see much in the way of a sign about what’s wrong in there though – the two games look virtually identical but in one, Hall was on the ice for a Corsi% that would make him the best player in the NHL if he did it over a season and the other generated a Corsi% that Lennart Petrell would wince at.
The zone entries are pretty much identical in both games. In the first game, the puck entered Edmonton’s zone when Hall was on the ice 47 times and entered St. Louis’ zone 41 times. In the second, the puck entered Edmonton’s zone 35 times and entered St. Louis’ zone 29 times. A total of 88 zone entries in game one (5.605 per minute of Hall 5v5 TOI) and 64 in game two (5.664 per minute of Hall 5v5 TOI). Same. Thing.
OK. What about how the puck is ending up in the offensive zone? I classified each of the entries into six types: carries (including passes across the blue line), dump-ins, faceoffs, Hall starting his shift with the puck in a given end, a penalty expiring and creating a 5v5 possession in the offensive or defensive zones and X, which essentially consists of the defensive team bringing the puck back into the defensive zone or the attacking team putting a puck into the defensive zone unintentionally.
Here’s what that gets us. Again, it looks pretty similar. The first line is the February 29 game, the second is the December 21 game. So, on February 29, 39% of the zone entries with Hall on the ice were carries. On December 21, it was 41.4%. Basically the same.
There are some broad trends here, I think. The Oilers were more likely to carry the puck into the offensive zone with Hall on the ice than the Blues were to carry the puck into the Oilers’ zone. I’d guess that the explanation for that is twofold: first, Hall plays a blend of players over the course of the game. Guys who play lower down the team are probably more concerned about just getting the puck deep. I’d guess that the mix of competition Hall faces at home means that his percentage of possessions carried into the offensive zone is invariably higher than the opposition. This is probably more true when the Oilers are trailing, which they generally are.
Second, I think St. Louis is probably more of a dump and chase team just generally. David Perron wouldn’t answer the question but he was asked on After Hours if it was true that Ken Hitchcock required the Blues to dump pucks in when they had a 2 on 2. That’s the sort of question it’s easy to deny…if it’s false. It’s how the Blues play. These two factors probably drive the difference there.
The key thing to me though is just how similar it all looks. Run down the two lines, comparing what took place in the two games, and you’d find it difficult to find much of a difference. Similar time spent in the two zones, similar methods of getting there, drastically different results.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org