The Oilers season is 20% done – A deep dive into defence and goaltending

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Edmonton Oilers Evan Bouchard

Apr 23, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) and defenseman Evan Bouchard (2) help goaltender Jack Campbell (36) defend the goal against Los Angeles Kings center Phillip Danault (24) during the second period in game four of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As the Oilers continue to be one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL this season, we break down where the blue line and goalies have been falling short.

The Oilers defense has taken a lot of heat this season – not undeservedly, and none more than offensive defenceman Evan Bouchard. Similarly, the goalies have received a lot of criticism, with fans still calling for a change, and Jack Campbell sinking in the AHL.

Read on to find out:

1.       Has the defence improved in the last eight games?

2.       How much of the failure is on the goaltending?

N.B. There is a TL;DR summarising each section if you just want to see the results.

Analysis 1: The defence over 16 games

Here are the definitions of stats which will be used in this section:

The entire team was getting PDO’d to start the season – ridiculously low on-ice SH%, terrible on-ice SV%, and therefore a low PDO that should eventually rise as the Oilers score some goals. This will only go as far as the shooting talent and injuries in the forward group allow for.

After 16 games, the defence has not totally bounced back. The only pairing that has seen an Earthly PDO is Darnell Nurse-Cody Ceci, which earned credit in the first handful of games for strong performances with good analytics. They were the top pair while Mattias Ekholm was still injured.

Through the first 16 games Ceci is also the only player to have a normal 1.005 PDO and an above-50% goal differential.

If you want, you can get a quick idea of their results just by looking at the colour-graded columns for GF%, xGF%, and PDO. However, we’ve also included “For” and “Against” data for reference.

The entire team has underperformed their xGF%, significantly. All D-men having xGF% in the range of ~55% is great, but many having GF% of 42% and lower is awful. The worst of this is the Brett Kulak-Vincent Desharnais pair, followed closely by Bouchard.

In 16 games, Bouchard had the worst GA/60, yet he had the second-best xGA/60 – this discrepancy is likely due to the quality of chances he gave up in the first eight games. In actual results, Bouchard had a middling GF%, but produced the highest xGF% and a scored point-per-game: 16 points in 16 games. He has been by far the best offence producer amongst the D-men.

Moreover, the rest of the defence’s PDO values will not remain at 0.950 and below forever, and they are likely to score more goals soon. Again looking at Bouchard, he has the third-lowest PDO, indicating he is, in effect, one of those players who is most due for pucks to bounce his way:

Bouchard saw normal PDO, SH%, and SV% values the last two seasons, but suddenly has a very low SV% behind him this year, and slightly lower On-Ice SH% from his teammates, resulting in a low PDO. He’s had lapses, but the goaltending has not been average behind him.

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