Sunday, November 23, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 21: Numb


30 SOG
25 SOG

Only by the quirks of the NHL tie breaking system do the Oilers find themselves out of the darkest, deepest pit of NHL hell. On the night after I reaffirmed that I thought the Oilers had shown stronger underlying numbers, they serve up the seasons most lopsided loss. If it was a test of my resolve, I will say that it took a lot of effort from damning the Oilers to the darkest pits of hell and completely abandoning logic to the warm, seductive embrace of hardcore hate. In some twist of irony, the Oilers actually out-corsi'ed the Hawks 5v5. The hockey gods have a sense of humor after all.

Rather than dissect every nuance of the Hawks hammering the hometown heros, here are some bits:

  • The reffing was garbage, for the most part. The call on RNH to put the Hawks up 5v3 made me think the ref had sports select riding on the game. Otherwise, it was uneven, and just non-situational reffing.
  • The Oilers didn't lose the game on goaltending, not when you consider either goalie gave up enough goals to lose. I will say, Scrivens could have stopped the first goal but it would have been a tough save for any goalie, even the leagues elite. When the Oilers have been playing as awful as they have recently, they need the spectacular, goalie-probably-shouldn't-have-saved-it level of stop.
  • Hall looked frustrated, and since return from his injury, he hasn't been able to stand out like the superstar left winger he is. I think it's mostly the product of a team without confidence and with serious problems in defensive execution. If you are afraid that any stray pass will lead to goal against, there's no question it will affect your game.
  • Jeff Petry had the most ice time for the team (23:33), and it's about time Eakins realized that he's currently the teams best defenceman. He's the only defenceman who looks like he can handle the role properly, certainly better than any of the other current Oilers. Justin Schultz played 16.5 minutes, and if the switch between top pair and second pair happens between Petry and Schultz, sign me up.
  • The Oilers got burned by virtually every mistake they made. How many times have you seen the Oilers - or in fact any team - make a mistake, and have the opposing team shoot the puck two inches too high, or have their seam pass hit a rut in the ice before a 20 goal scorer can smash it into an wide open 6x4. The Cosmic Curse that's deep-dishing the Oilers ass can't seem to get the hint. At some point, all these laser-precision top corner shots taken moments after an Oilers turnover aren't going to hit toonie sized spots in the sunlight behind the stoppers.
Now what? Some thoughts after the hop.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 20: The Heart of Darkness

Normally the post would be crowned with a picture and a score line, maybe some witty caption, but black, oily bile has clawed its way up my throat, and my heart feels hollow and dark. So simple words will have to do; words will have to be my catharsis in this bleak, awful, and agonizing time for the Edmonton Oilers faithful.

Of all the fans in the league, no one quite knows suffering like the Oilers fan, and certainly not in the last decade or so. After the ultimate rejection by one of the worst modern era Stanley Cup winner, the Oilers have ridden a black steed down to the bottom of the league, through the gates of hell, and sat upon a pile of draft corpses, gutter slime seasons, and the bleached bones of long gone NHL coaches. Like greasy, worm-fed scoundrels, we - the unnamed mass of misguided fans - have crowded to bow before this dark throne, and begged our black master to show us the past glories. The days of yore when the Oily tendrils of the Orange and Blue spread across North America and dominated professional hockey. When the master of the puck was anointed, and he lead us to a dynasty of silver cups piled upon one another. It was hockey rapture, and the probably the greatest run a hockey fan could ever experience.

The echoes of that greatness are with us still: it's drawn one of the largest and most passionate group of fans in the world, a knowledgeable group of dedicated and intelligent writers, and finally pride. The kind of pride that had Kevin Lowe make a fool of himself when the Oilers recent ineptitude was challenged. The kind of pride that had our GM Craig MacTavish proclaim that Justin Schultz had "Norris" potential. The kind of pride that Eakins exercised in his first season as an NHL coach and that eventually humbled him before his second.

The kind of pride that has prevented the Oilers from making the kind of ruthless, necessary decisions with their roster to truly fashion a contender.

Today, after the Oilers shutout loss to the Devils - who were a measly 4 points up o the Oilers before the game - we are faced, again, with absolute fucking rock fucking bottom. Second last in the league ahead of only the -35 goal differential, possibly-historically-bad Buffalo "McDavid" Sabres, there remains almost nothing more to be said about the travesty of the first quarter of the Oilers season. It's a failure, from the coaches early season decisions to the goaltenders early stopping ability to the inept power play. It's been a failure, a fuck-up, an absolute anal-blasting top to bottom. Even in my darkest nightmares I couldn't imagine how impossibly bad the Oilers results would be.

We are left with three paths.

First, you can shun the Oilers. You can finally admit you don't have the stomach for all of this fucking carnage, all this blood, all this eye-bleeding, loser-powered play. You can walk away, wash the oily film off your hands, and find solace in liquor or crack or cat videos. This is the path for the flighty, floppy fan; the fan who doesn't truly bleed Oil; this is for the weak-willed.

Second, you can rage and scream and throat-rip. You can dial the digits of your local sports talk radio, and make the lines burn with your anguish. You can call your local witch doctor and curse the unborn children of Nikitin, place a hex on Hendricks, prick a Ben Scrivens bobble-head with voodoo juju. You can wave away the math, spit on the off-season signings, and ultimately embrace the hate. It's the easiest path. It might be the most satisfying, to give in to all that anger. I couldn't blame you in the slightest - it's been too long, too dark, and too empty for me to disparage anyone who simply wants their pound of flesh. Maybe some of that hate will light a fire in the Oilers that seems to be missing from their game since their dead-eyed coach doesn't seem to help instill it.

Third, you can believe the numbers that say that the Oilers continue to be incredibly unlucky, and that they have made real gains on the shot clock this season. I'm sure right now this seems like a laughable idea, like I'm high on heroin, that I'm watching the games on spreadsheets, or I'm stupid. Again, considering how bad they've been, even I have begun to doubt my own conviction - who wouldn't? This is the hardest path, and probably the least popular.

There have been serious problems: the coaches ice-time decisions, the power play strategies, and the general GM reaction to a lack of center, goalie, and defenceman depth. And yet, the Oilers aren't getting buried in their own end any more, and they have been the butt of bad percentages that surely can't sustain. The opposite (bad possession, high percentages) burned the '13-14 Avalanche, the '13-14 Leafs, and the '11-12 Wild even as their fan-bases screamed at the statletes that they were idiots and pencil-pushers. And now we have the opposite, and again we will probably be ridiculed or even worse, give in to the hate since it's so fucking tempting to just throw the coaching staff and players and management under the bus.

I'm sticking to my fucking guns. I believe that they are better, and even if Eakins gets replaced by Dan Bylsma, even if the Oilers find respectable goaltending and the power play punches out a few opponents, I won't have wavered. You win games by possessing the puck, not riding percentages, and I am willing to die by that sword.

Let's just hope the Oilers don't thrust it through my heart.

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 19: The Agony of Repeat


31 SOG
32 SOG

Faced with another one goal loss, it was difficult to conjure up another calm and collected response to the collective cluster-fuck that flubbed a four four tie in the third. I wanted to howl and scream, I wanted to post incendiary headlines like "Oilers Top Team in West" or "Oilers Blow Harder Than Scrivens' Goal Horn Last Night". I wanted to be there in the post game scrum and ask Coach Eakins why the Oilers got crushed in the first period once again, and why he plays the worst 4.5 million defenceman in the league the most ice time on the night - 23 minutes of tomfoolery and timidity.

I wanted some relief from the wretchedness of repeated losing seasons, and instead, what I was left with was a dark, cold plasma screen staring at me, a girlfriend pissed at me for a 3 hour silent treatment, and another one goal loss in the books. The Oilers had fashioned 3 comebacks in the uneven, mostly garbage game from luck and Miller's bad goaltending, but then regurgitated the lead when it got to crunch time. The normally reliable "4th" line made bad decisions, and once again the Bubble-Face Boys feasted on inept defending by sliding a puck under a swimming Captain Ference for a late winner.

To add insult to injury, we have guys like Glenn Healy sucking the Sedins sour-milk maker all game, heaping praise upon them as if they were baby Swedish Jesuses... Jesii? If there is anything worse than watching the Canucks TV team circle-jerk themselves into friction-induced flaming flattery, it's probably Hitler. They loved looking at some typical hockey play from the Oilers as if they had just blasted buckshot into a bunch of babies, and the Canucks making some typical play as if it was revolutionizing the game with hockey. When the color commentary - Hughson and Simpson - has you yearning for Louie Debrusk, you know they've crossed some critical threshold into one of the seven circles of Hell.

Sitting 6-11-2 is has many fans wondering "Why am I here?" and "What is all this good for?". I don't have the answers. I have predictions borne of math and logic, but even on a night when the Oilers scored on 11% of their even strength shots, they let in 5 goals, most of them preventable. Not even to mention most of the offence came from the third and fourth line on exactly the night when our top 6 was inept at generating offensive pressure.

In the post game scrum, some idiot beat reporter had the audacity to analyze Scrivens' game (click on Scrivens post game) by saying something like "It's obvious you would have liked more than a couple of those back." First of all, idiot, more than a couple would basically be every goal in the game, good job on learning kindergarten math. Second, the goal on the Aulie give-away may or may not have been a bad goal. I'm of the opinion that a perfectly placed wrist shot with NHL velocity from the top of the circle will beat every goalie in the league. Was it perfectly placed? Was it NHL velocity? I don't know. What I do know is that the Oilers didn't lose the game on the back of Scrivens game in net. He made huge saves, and while he's been Ebolabrutal for the much of the season, the team gave up double digit odd man situations.

Finally, and with greatest venom, I wish to lampoon Nikitin, and by proxy, Coach Eakins. How the spazzatronic, smoking the chronic Nikitin is getting the most ice time on the Oilers positively perplexes me. In the post game scrum Eakins - I'm paraphrasing - said something to the tune that he had to play Nikitin because the defencemen behind him were struggling. Well then, pick up the macphone, and request some competent players to rebalance the D squad. You might also start by giving Marincin a fucking start or two as well.

Or screw it, let's draw in Gazdic!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Oilers Shooting Percentage and Why Calgary Stinks

There seems to be a lot of consternation in the Oilers world about how the local Ice Stick Game team is as bad as last year. If you go by the historical standings from a year ago, the Oilers were 22 games played with a record of 5-15-2 for 12 points (29th), with a -29 goal differential (30th). Fast forward to today, and the Oilers have played 18 games, gone 6-10-2 for 14 points (27th), with a -16 goal differential (29th). In other words, marginally better, 4 games in hand with a 2 point lead is a small improvement. But we are talking about comparing shit prepared by a fine French chef versus shit that a horse's ass has air dropped onto a grassy field: it's still shit.

The thing is, you know where the Oilers are right now. They aren't in a good place, but like I said, you knew that. So as a fan, it is more important to determine where this team is going. Is it a fiery oil tanker capsizing at sea, with a McDavid mermaid swimming up to inspect the wreckage? Or are the blue and orange pulling themselves out of a oily, dark abyss to finally see the light? One obvious way is to look at points. It stands to reason that if a team is bad at picking up points in the first 18 games, they will probably be lousy at doing that the rest of the season. It's not incorrect logic per se, but it can be statistically inferred that Corsi Tied is a better predictor of future success than winning percentage (credit to the awesome JLikens, RIP):

For three whole seasons, for every segment of games, the Corsi Tied (that's the T) is a better predictor of future success than the teams current win percentage! With that in mind, the Oilers are currently ranked 17th in the league with a Corsi Close of 49.9%. Corsi close is like corsi tied but also allows for either team being up by one, which expands the number of events to be counted and is a little more reliable. The Oilers last year were 43.4%, which was 28th in the league. So a couple things to take from this:
  1. By shot metrics - which we've established will predict their future success with more accuracy - the Oilers are a vastly improved squad (+6.5% is a monumental shift in this regard).
  2. By shot metrics the Oilers are probably a better team than their points percentage indicates; they should be performing at about the middle of the bell curve. The current 17th overall team is Ottawa, who are 8-5-4 for 20 points, with a +2 goal differential.
Of course the Oilers aren't 17th in the league. They are an abysmal 27th. Which begs the question: why aren't they seeing the results that the shot metrics are predicting? One reason is simple enough: the Oilers have had an awful PDO. PDO is simply the addition of the teams shooting percentage with the teams save percentage. Aside from a few truly terrible and tremendous teams, this number tends to converge on 100%. The Oilers are 29th in the league with a PDO of 97.03. Only Carolina (96.66) is worse. The Oilers goaltending is 28th (90.07), and their shooting 24th (6.96).

I'm not going to get into goaltending (and the team save percentage), simply because a) it's been poor - and it may not improve substantially, and b) your eyes would bleed if I included any more numbers than I already have. What I will look at, is what will happen if the Oilers shooting percentage rebounded from 24th in the league to a more middling number.

Strap on your pocket protectors people, we are about to deep dive into some math.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 18: The Ghosts of Oilers Past


28 SOG
34 SOG
The Oilers were visited by three ghosts on the night: Devan Dubnyk, the Ghost of Oilers Past, Sam Gagner, the Ghost of Oilers Present, and Tobias Reider, the Ghost of Oilers Future. The ordering of course determined by the year in which the Oilers drafted each ('04, '07, and '11 respectively). The verdict is out on what kind of impact each player will have over their NHL careers, but in exchange for Hendricks, Purcell, and Kale Kessey, it's still hard to say how the swap will sway each teams success going forward. At least on the Sunday - in the ceremonious return of Mr. Heartbeat of the Local Sports Team - Dubnyk was the gangly giant tipping the scale.

The Oilers played a sound game, and generally outplayed and outchanced the Arizona squad. Unfortunately, the puck gods ordained that the Oilers would get absolutely nothing, and it probably didn't help that Pouliot took a stupid penalty in the dying minutes of the third. There were other small problems contributing to the 'Yotes win: another slimy bounce in the third to go down two, Justin Schultz's inability to conjure up his Norris quality offence in his 5 PP minutes, and a general lack of scoring prowess among the entire team.

The Oilers have the 24th ranked offence in the league at 2.44 GF/Game (2.08 5v5), and it just seems night in and night out they can't quite figure out how to put pucks in the old point-collector. I'm guessing - will verify later - that teams by the quarter mark illustrate their offensive ability, as long as it's adjusted for shooting percentage.I'll have a post later today regarding this, but suffice to say the Oilers are probably a much better offensive team than they have shown recently.

Back to the game, like Eakins I felt like the Oilers were just a bounce away, and as hinted at above, the Almighty Bastards of Bouncy Bullets decided that tonight was not the night. Dubnyk was OK, but I also didn't think Big Easy was particularly brilliant. He made the stops he should, and a couple were higher quality, but nothing stand-out-ish. Still the Oilers playoff chances aren't powered by Hero Cookies, and has the Oilers with a measly 5.9% chance to make the playoffs, leading only the 0% Buffalo Sabres. It's grim, but at least the Oilers have been absolutely hosed in terms of puck luck. Their 97.03 5v5 PDO is second worst in the league, and fueled by 23rd ranked shooting percentage, and a 28th ranked save percentage. It has to rebound, doesn't it? Doesn't it?!

Some players after the hop.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 17: Scrivens Chokes, Hoffman Gloats

Alternative titles were: Deja Vu, Scrivens Plays like Poo
Game 16 Away Game 8

Game 17 Home Game 9

Let's get this out the way right off the hop: Scrivens was not the sole reason the Oilers lost the game. He was a crucial piece of the uneven OT loss, but the second and third goals were clearly not his fault. That said, no matter which level of hockey you play, when an early goal goes in that has the lingering odour of Mexican marmalade, the team sags. They sagged all the way back into a faintly-remembered fever-dream where they were down 3-0 by the end of the first period (a ghostly voice whispers Nashville, Nashville).

There were positives of course, as there often are when a team fights back from two goals down in the third to force overtime. Once again the Oilers decided to activate McDavid Dodging Afterburners after they placed themselves in a dark, dank hole. Similar to the Nashville game, the Oilers got absolutely German-leather-mistress dominated in the first, but slowly added Fire, Gumption, Truculence, Effort, and other hockey intangibles capitalized to the ice-tilting scale. After being roundly out-possessed in the first (Corsi 13-19), they took over the game for the second and third periods (Corsi 41-26). Whatever strange voodoo magic the Oilers shamans are practicing is transforming the team during the first intermission into the resemblance of a strong, capable NHL squad. Someone needs to make sure the witch doctors are arriving before game time.

To prevent Oilers fans from drilling holes in their foreheads and symbolically pouring hot oil in said hole, I've decided to focus on another positive topic: the Oilers resiliency. Coach Eakins has talked at length about how he felt the team as a whole had a positive, and resilient mentality regardless of the game situation. Notwithstanding obvious Sun newspaper statements like "we don't want to make a habit of it", it still speaks to a team that has the confidence to assemble the humpty dumpty first period and fashion it into a point or two.

Report card after the hop...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 16: One Step Forward, Two-Step Back

This is also a diagram of Nikitin's skating stride.



Like a freckle-faced country girl invited to her first ball, the Oilers were shy and timid lady to start, and a big strong cowboy swooped in and swept her off her feet. Smothered with swagger and speed, the Oilers were nailed to their own zone's boards, and the Predators racked up an impressive 25 shot attempts to the Oilers 8. It was triple-E Ugleee, and in stark contrast to the fast, vicious upstarts that embarrassed the Blueshirts in the previous game.

The preds scored a good goal - Cullen's rebound swipe off he post, a bad goal - Riberio cleaning up Neal's long-range loose change, and an ugly goal - Flippies obtuse in-close offering. The last goal in particular stung; like Remenda said, there was a feeling that if the Oilers could escape the initial frame down a deuce that they might be able to fashion a game out of the first period wreckage. Alas, Fasth ended the goalie controversy with about a minute before the intermission, which eventually ended his night, and ultimately was all Sabercats needed.

The Good

Benoit Pouliot had another strong game, including a turbo-charged bolt to the top shelf that eluded the towering Rinne. He had 4 shots, almost 20 minutes of ice, and finished +1. If the Oilers are going to be able to sustain success long-term, Pouls will need to maintain this level of consistency. This was another good game, he seems to be making a habit of them recently.

Ben Scrivens was perfect in relief. Granted, the Oilers decided to show the cowboy a thing or two about how to dance, but in general Scrivens was solid from post to post, and made a super save on a Neal solo-shot to keep the Oilers in it right till the final whistle.

Nail Yakupov continues to stick to his game, and was rewarded on the night with a Perron power-move and pass. He had a glorious chance on the PP to tie up the game, but alas his timing failed him. It's positive he's sticking with the process, and Nail received 18 minutes of ice, essentially confirming the coach is happy with his contributions. We would love to see him connect on that one timer though - he hasn't scored a lot of goals from any distance in a while. In case you were worried about Yak, here's the coach after the game:

"It looked scary coming off but he just had a couple stitches in his wrist." - Coach Eakins on Yakupov, cut near the end of the game

David Perron continues to be the straw stirring the shit in every game. His quick, sticky play continues to pace his line; aside from his absolutely massive pass to Yakupov for the "slam dunk", he's able to drive possession consistently (44% on the night when the team was 39%). In case you were curious, his metaphysically joined brother, Paajarvi, is 6gp 0-1-1 -1, and the pick after Magnus was Ryan Ellis, a guy playing well for the enemy in this one.

The Process that the coach is employing seems to actual be sinking into the domes of the desperate Oilers. They aren't straying from the game plan - merely occasionally offering up ugly execution of said plan. If they can really get it in their thick, long losing heads that they need to play the same way regardless of score, that will be the biggest step they've taken as a team since Tambo sent them presents on the draft-tank train.

Some villains after the hop...