The Edmonton Oilers are in a very similar situation this year, sitting dead last in the NHL, just having been passed by the Columbus Blue Jackets who started this year 0-8. It’s been groundhog day for the Oilers. The goaltenders have not been great with Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson having a 0.890 and 0.902 save percentage respectively so far this season. The defense has been highly suspect as well with many veterans getting outplayed by younger players and not one of the Oilers defensemen have played consistently well all season. Despite this, the Oilers have looked visually better this season, but that hardly comes as solace for a fan base longing for the Oilers to show improvement in the standings. The PK started strong this year but they have now dropped to 22nd in the NHL. The powerplay has been a welcome change this year with the Oilers sitting 11th with a 21.1% success rate, but the true problem with the Oilers has always been their 5v5 play. Strong even-strength play is the key to success in the NHL and it has not been this team’s forte in recent years.
The Oilers 5v5 stats this year are as follows:
(source: behindthenet.ca and nhl.com)
The obvious take away from this is that the goaltending and defense has really hurt them once again early on. The fact that the Oilers are an average team in shots against per 60 but one of the worst in goals against per 60 mins is pretty damning. It’s hard to only blame the goalies when there hasn’t been a goalie who has succeeded with the Oilers in the past three seasons. However, there have been some weak goals as of late which have cost the team a couple points in the standings. The defense I have touched on in the past, and will continue to be a work in progress, but they obviously have a fair portion of the blame of the goaltenders performance as well. Too often they have given the opposition too many high quality looks to score.
The defense is what it is for now and barring a trade will not improve significantly soon enough. Meaning the Oilers are going to have to find ways to win while getting outshot the majority of the games. I believe the Oilers do not have enough puck moving defensemen to get the puck out quickly to the Oilers forwards for their team corsi to change significantly.
Obviously, the Oilers record will naturally improve with better goaltending, but I believe the Oilers forwards hold a key in their short term ability to turn things around.
After 4 losses against the three top teams in the extremely strong central division, the Oilers went 5-4 in their next 9 games against some decent competition as well. The visual during these games were that the Oilers were tougher to defend. The Oilers had two lines that were a threat having Connor McDavid and Nail Yakupov on one and Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the other. Leon Draisaitl also got called up part way through this stretch due to so many injuries and immediately contributed. The Oilers bottom six had some contributions, but not enough from players like Anton Lander and Mark Letestu and Teddy Purcell, who had dropped out of the top six forwards.
The McDavid injury really hurt the Oilers as he had really hurt the Oilers as they had lost one of their top offensive contributors, and Yakupov has gone fairly silent since. However, some interesting things have come to light since the injury. Hall and Draisaitl have developed some amazing chemistry together and because of it the big German center has scored 13 points in 8 games and Hall is tied for 4th in points. Purcell seems to be improving and has 4 points in his last 4 games, and looked good on Hall and Draisaitl’s line. This chemistry has allowed Todd McLellan to spread out his offensive talent through his lines, and against Chicago the top three lines are as follows:
Hall – Draisaitl – Purcell
Pouliot – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle
Hendricks – Letestu – Yakupov
Nugent-Hopkins returns from the flu and slots back in with what was the Oilers #1 line last year. The third line had some good shifts against LA, being able to create some good chances off the cycle. The Oilers once again have two lines that are a threat and will create scoring chances. I think these lines give the Oilers the best chance to control the even strength play, and therefore the best chance for the Oilers to win. If the goaltending can actually come back to average and the forwards find success, we could be looking at a more successful last three quarters of the season than we’ve seen in seasons past.