It’s time for another More Than Meets the Eye, a weekly column where I break down a Thursday night game using “fancy stats”. Tonight, Today’s Slapshot readers voted in the Stars vs Oilers game. The Stars have been in a major slump, picking up only a single point on a road trip through California, and only grabbing one victory so far in 2016. The Oilers, well, they have been hamstrung by injury after injury, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the latest of Edmonton’s skaters to be missing significant time.
The Stars won the game in a 3-2 victory, but per usual, the score line doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the most commonly used category of possession, Corsi For percentage, Dallas had the edge on the Oilers. But if you look at that second category, Fenwick For percentage, that’s where Dallas dominated.
What’s the difference between the two? Well, Fenwick counts only unblocked shot attempts – it only includes missed shots and shots on goal. Frequently, Fenwick is used as a proxy for “shot suppression” because a blocked shot is still a shot an opponent was able to take.
It’s not like blocking shots is a guarantee that they won’t end up in the back of the net. Every hockey fan has seen an accidental deflection turn into an own goal.
So what does this mean? It means the Oilers weren’t doing a good job of getting into shot lanes to prevent the Stars from taking shots; they were simply reacting to shots that had already been taken. Blocking shots should be used as a last resort for a defense, but here, they were an integral part of the Oilers’ defensive game. And when playing against a high powered offense like the Stars’, letting them take a lot of shots is almost a guaranteed loss.
For the Stars, it was imperative that their top line really be the best skaters on the ice, and Benn, Seguin, Sharp, and defender Klingberg were just that. The third line of Janmark, Hemsky, and Roussel also provided excellent defense when called upon, though they didn’t make much of an impact offensively.
The biggest storyline for the Stars was defender Jyrki Jokipakka scoring his second goal of the season, having waved off, and then scoring it again. It was easily his best game all year, and it shows in the numbers: no one on the Stars had a better night defensively than he did.
For the Oilers, Kassian was a surprisingly effective player, though it was Yakupov who scored a sharp angle goal to bring the game within one. While Davidson was having a good game for the boys from Edmonton, he unfortunately suffered an injury and was only able to log eight minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. All in all, it was a lackluster performance from the Oilers, and they were lucky to lose by just one goal.
Sometimes, these charts look very similar; in fact, most of them look exactly like Niemi’s does here. Ideally, you want your defense to be pushing more shot attempts to the Low Danger areas (so that is darkest) and the least amount of attempts in the High Danger ones (so it would be lightest).
Cam Talbot’s chart looks…well, there’s very little change from one area to the next. This means that not only were the Oilers giving up a high number of chances, they were extremely ineffective at preventing the Stars from taking more dangerous shots. Had Talbot not been on his game, this score line would’ve been very different.
Sometimes, like the Stars, a team goes through rough patches. They drop games, they get unlucky, or they lose their identity for a match or two. What makes a good team good is being able to regain that form and keep it consistently. The numbers the Stars put up tonight, especially defensively, are similar to what they were averaging during their franchise-best start to the season.
On the other hand, sometimes teams are just bad.
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but as good as Taylor Hall is this year, and how great it’s been to see Eberle get back into the scoring groove, and how exciting Draisaitl and McDavid (when healthy) can be, the Oilers have a major flaw that’s not being addressed, and that’s their defense. Goaltending can only do so much to mask poor defensive play. This loss isn’t on Talbot, and honestly it’s probably not even on the defense. It’s on Chiarelli and McLellan to find the players and a system that can turn things around.