Drip, drip, drip: Oilers ace Leon Draisaitl is in a leaky defensive slump now

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Leon Drystle is second in the NHL’s leading scorer race, bested only by fellow Supernova player Conor McDavid.

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Draisaitl is one of the greatest hockey players in the world. If the Edmonton Oilers win the Stanley Cup, the big, strong and brave Draisaitl will surely be in charge just like McDavid.

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He is a two-way, almost unstoppable force on offense and on the defensive end when he delivers his “A” game, as he often does in the toughest matches against the toughest opponents.

There is no real argument about any of the above.

But there’s also no real argument that as deadly as Draisaitl has been on offense this season, he’s also struggled on defense. Oh, and he started out strong, playing some of the best two-way hockey of his career in October, but over the past 10 games he’s leaked far too many first-rate shots and goals against her with equal strength.

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When he leaves, we see a slow Draisaitl check back and slowly move off the ice, as was the case with Damon Severson’s goal in the New Jersey game. We see him linger in the read, as it was against Los Angeles late in the close with Warren Voegele, who had dipped his leg into the slot, with Draystle slowly coming out to the point to hide shooter Trevor Moore. When he does leave, Draisaitl tends to stray from basic defensive fundamentals, such as staying with his man, staying between his check and the Oilers net.

He begins to break free, relying on his fantastic instincts to try and guess where the play will go so he can catch passes. But when he guesses wrong, he ends up in the red light district. What is this place? If you find yourself alone, skating on white ice with the roar of the crowd, Not covering any traffic lane and not covering any opponent player, don’t worry. Because you are in the red light district and you are already signed in.

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It is not uncommon for hockey fans and pundits to notice an offensive and defensive decline. All we need to do is look at the obvious stats like goals and assists, numbers that have done a good job fairly and accurately representing offensive operation and performance for 100 years. But it’s much more difficult to notice a defensive slump because we don’t have such clear stats to rely on.

At Cult of Hockey, we attempt to overcome this difficulty by conducting a video review of each for, against, and first-order goal and shot for and against the Oilers, and evaluating which players have made significant contributions on each first-order goal and shot. We’ve done this work since 2007-08 on goals and since 2010-11 on first-class shots. This is not a perfect analysis method but it is the best way to get things right. It’s our attempt to back up our opinions about players with fairer and more accurate information rather than just going by watching matches or relying on raw shooting or goal counts when a player is on the ice.

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I’ll also point out the obvious, Bruce McCurdy and I are not NHL coaches, executives, scouts, or analytics staff, just avid, dedicated fans. I have no problem if others decide to give little or no weight in our rating.

Draisaitl started in the Red Hot as a two-way player this year. In his first eight games of the year, he played some of the best 200-foot hockey of his career. He made a significant contribution on 3.4 first-order shots per game (15 min ES) and 1.2 first-order misses per game, for an overall average of +2.2 first-order shots per game plus-minus rate. His performance was at a high level, and he was outpacing McDavid at the time.

I note that +2.2 Grade A shots per game is an excellent number for a position.

Any NHL center with +1.0 Class A shots per game claims to be the top line center in the NHL.

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For comparison, McDavid was +2.25 per game last season, Draisaitl +1.8 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins +0.8.

In 2020-21, McDavid’s model for consistency was +1.9 per game and Draisaitl +1.0 per game, so McDavid was at his supernova level and Drais at the first midfield level with equal strength.

In his last 11 games, Draisaitl has only averaged +0.1 per game, which is a level we see from marginal NHL positions.

He’s gone from making 1.2 misses on equal-strength first-order shots per game in his first eight games to 2.1 per game in his last 11.

Last year he averaged 1.2 per game, and the season before that 1.1 per game, so Dray is making twice as many big mistakes as he usually does.

Let me admit something here – it’s not fun writing this kind of post. I’m a big fan of the player and everything he brings. Creates magic at the rink almost every night. He is the beast of the two-way game, a brave, fierce, and capable competitor.

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But we do our video review for a reason, to try to be fair and accurate in rating players. We often criticize our bottom line D-men and third- and fourth-line players when they fail to measure up. I don’t see anyone taking the sentiments out of Jesse Poligarvi or Keeler Yamamoto or Evan Bouchard in the criticism section now. Indeed, I often see the opposite, some harsh and unrestrained criticism of this or that player.

I’m not for the savagery of players, but I’m for integrity and accuracy, and it’s in that spirit that I make this critique of Dracytel.

He can play two-way hockey better than he does now. He can be deadly and a D-zone killer, as he often shows up in three-on-five situations (where his impressive game-reading is clearly more important).

Of course, Draisaitl will bring it together in d-zone again. He’s been working in the last couple of games, especially against Vegas where he’s been skating and checking in as Dinh. I have no doubt we’ll see more of that.

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