Where has Edmonton’s offence gone?

That’s the most pressing question for an Oilers organization in turmoil, one that has seen its playoff footing aggressively erode over the past two months, and one that just overhauled the coaching staff.

Jay Woodcroft and the new-look Edmonton coaching staff has a mountain of work ahead of them. The first step is qualifying for the postseason, which in and of itself is a tenuous situation. Woodcroft must assume additional roster help, at least this season, will be sparingly available. Edmonton’s cap flexibility is non-existent, with the team opting to invest in assets (including Zach Hyman, Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci) last off-season.

To that end, it’s hard to figure how much of a factor the new coaching group can have on the periphery of the roster. Competency in depth roles has been an issue for what seems like a decade now, and for better or worse, the team is anchored to Mikko Koskinen, Stuart Skinner, and Mike Smith in net. Edmonton will likely have to win despite these factors.

Let’s talk about something that hasn’t made much sense, and that’s the breakdown of this team’s awesome offensive output. A team led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl should rarely have trouble scoring, and for some time, they didn’t.

But if you look at Edmonton’s rate scoring in monthly segments, you can see how quickly this has flipped:

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Power-play effects (both the volatility on the power play, and the number of power-play opportunities themselves) can dilute all situations data, but the broad point here is that facing the Edmonton attack has never been easier.

The Oilers, over the past three months of the season, are an average-to-below-average offence. I would argue that is the most distressing signal surrounding the team. That was the dam that would never breach and the safety net that would keep the Oilers afloat in the standings.

All teams go through offensive slumps. The reason this scoring slump is of concern for Edmonton (outside of it being the team’s core strength) is that similar offensive metrics are starting to break down.

If you look at expected goal scoring, which better controls for shooting percentage volatility, you can see it is flat to down since the beginning of the year. That means the Oilers are both generating less dangerous offence and struggling to convert on the scoring chances they do have – a poisonous combination.

I was curious about where the slide is observable in the lineup, and the short answer is everywhere. Let’s isolate on Edmonton’s centres since the beginning of the season, with a focus on one relationship: goals per expected goals.

Variance to the upside shows a line’s ability to beat goal-scoring expectations; similarly, variance to the downside shows a line frequently thwarted. For this case, we will look at just even strength, as the Edmonton depth centres have had no exposure to power-play minutes:

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A couple of these players (like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) will play in different roles on different lines, but I think this tells the underlying story. When Edmonton was flying out of the gates to start the year, a lot of it was because their top lines – and Draisaitl in particular – were going supernova in beating expectations. As a reminder, Draisaitl alone shot 25 per cent at even strength over the first two months of the season.

What happens when the likes of Draisaitl and McDavid slow down? Edmonton looks  a bit exposed. We have seen Edmonton’s depth lines – focusing on Ryan McLeod and Derek Ryan here – carry better than expected on-ice shooting percentages over the course of this season, but that matters very little when your group is generating such few opportunities. Over the full season, the difference between those top-line minutes and not is colossal:

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At some point Edmonton’s top line will start converting on more of these chances, but this really gets to the heart of what ails the Oilers. This team is simply not good enough to win a stretch of games when the offence has cooled off. In fact, the only thing that defines this team is a great offence in which two players are so uber-talented that they bend our understanding of what’s possible in the offensive zone.

McDavid and Draisaitl do that frequently, but they haven’t been as successful of late. Their inability to continue carrying the entirety of the lineup in the offensive zone has already had dramatic consequences.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, NHL.com