Oilers Outshooting Opponents & Losing

There’s an extremely odd phenomenon going on with the Edmonton Oilers right now. It’s a phenomenon that likely has the analytics crowd scratching their heads — the Oilers are frequently outshooting their opponents and losing hockey games.

Talk to any statistical expert who covers the game of professional hockey on a regular basis and they’ll tell you, it’s not supposed to be that way. Talk to the “we saw them good” crowd and they’ll suggest that the team that shoots more should have the better chance of winning. Yet, despite the logically expected results, the contrary is holding true for this 2016-17 version of the Edmonton Oilers.

The Numbers

If we take a look at the Oilers last three games specifically, the results are as follows:

Oilers Shot Differential Chart Last 3 Games vs opponents. Photo By Jim Parsons at the Hockeywriters.

We can go back even further — of the six total losses this season, Edmonton has outshot their opponents in four of those games. The margin isn’t even close as the Oilers have 152 shots to their opponents 106 shots in those four defeats. This begs the question, what is going on?

How is it that a team that spent so many years a lottery contender, often because they were out-chanced and out-shot by their opponents, can finally be shooting the puck and, as a result, is now on their longest losing streak of the season?

There is Good News and Bad News

Jordan Eberle (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
Eberle leads the Oilers with 51 shots on net. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s not just when the Oilers outshoot their opponents and lose that makes this phenomenon kind of strange. If we look at the first run of games where the Oilers went 7-1-0 to start the year, Edmonton was outshot by a margin of 216 to 190. Basically, the opposite was true — Edmonton was being out-shot, but winning.

This means, that over time, the numbers should even themselves out. Like two opposing storytellers stretching the context of a story, the truth lays somewhere in the middle.

The Edmonton Oilers are not going to stay a team that loses every game in which they continually outshoot their opponents. Why? Because the numbers and the history of previous results don’t support anything other than a change of results if the Oilers keep the shot totals high. The goals will come.

The reality is, over this stretch of recent losses, Edmonton has seen one of the worst runs in recent NHL shooting percentage history. An interesting tweet exchange came across Twitter by ‘numbers guy’ and active Oilers writer Jonathan Willis in response to an earlier tweet by Oilers Inside Sports Host on 630 CHED, Reid Wilkins. That tweet exchange is below.

Willis is suggesting that Edmonton is on a tear of some of the worst luck potentially possible in today’s NHL. He went on in further tweets to say that the worst shooting team in the NHL since 2007-08 was the 2014-15 Coyotes who had a shooting percentage of 6.9% over that season. In other words, the Coyotes had more than twice as good a shooting percentage as the Oilers do at their current rate.

Scoring Chances

Another regular writer in the Oilers blogosphere is Cult of Hockey Contributor David Staples, a writer who often likes to look at scoring chances versus shot totals. He keeps a running total during each game and tweets his findings.

Oilers watchers like Staples contend that when the team is winning, their shot totals were less but their scoring chances were better. Thus, it makes sense that over this lousy run of losses, their scoring chances have decreased and so have the Oilers victories. Should the Oilers be able to correct the type of chances they generate on offense, while combining that with an increased quantity of shots, the results should drastically improve.

Something to Remember

Connor McDavid
(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

For Oilers fans concerned about the recent run of losses, the numbers suggest something important to keep in mind.

First, what is happening is odd and not the norm. No team can have this low a shooting percentage and maintain it over the course of a season. Naturally, things will improve.

Second, Edmonton can make slight adjustments to their style of shots and increase their potential scoring chances. If they can do this and limit the oppositions ‘Grade A’ opportunities, things should turn around.

Finally, the Oilers are not out of the playoffs or ready to throw in the towel yet. The season is early and they are still tied for the lead in the Pacific Division. There is a lot of hockey left to play and the Oilers will have plenty of opportunities to change their most recent experiences. It starts on Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.

Oh yeah…the Oilers also have this player by the name of Connor McDavid. You may have heard of him. He changes a lot of equation and gives hope to every Edmonton Oilers fan who feels like the sky is falling.