Context matters

Jonathan Willis
November 19 2008 05:49PM

Much of the angst about the Oilers this season stems from a quick look at the standings: hovering around or below eighth place after a summer of team-building is not accepted anymore in these parts. The usual solutions (fire the coach, trade bums a, b and c) have been trotted out, and even Craig MacTavish seems more uneasy than usual.

The context—in this case, the schedule—really matters here. The Oilers have played 14 of their 19 games on the road, and have points in four of their five home games. To make this point crystal clear, here are the Western Conference standings, based solely on road record:

Detroit (8-1-1): 1.80 PTS/GM Anaheim (5-2-0): 1.43 PTS/GM San Jose (6-3-0): 1.33 PTS/GM Minnesota (6-3-0): 1.33 PTS/GM Edmonton (7-7-0): 1.00 PTS/GM Vancouver (4-4-1): 1.00 PTS/GM Colorado (4-5-0): 0.89 PTS/GM Columbus (3-4-2): 0.89 PTS/GM Nashville (4-6-1): 0.82 PTS/GM Dallas (4-6-1): 0.82 PTS/GM Los Angeles (2-3-0): 0.80 PTS/GM Phoenix (3-5-0): 0.75 PTS/GM St. Louis (2-4-1): 0.71 PTS/GM Calgary (3-6-0): 0.67 PTS/GM Chicago (2-3-1): 0.50 PTS/GM

Edmonton, by this particular standard, is in fifth. But, you say, what about their home record? Let’s look at how their home record stacks up:

San Jose (10-0-1): 1.91 PTS/GM Calgary (7-2-1): 1.67 PTS/GM Minnesota (5-1-1): 1.57 PTS/GM Chicago (6-1-4): 1.45 PTS/GM Vancouver (6-2-1): 1.44 PTS/GM Nashville (5-2-0): 1.43 PTS/GM Detroit (4-1-2): 1.43 PTS/GM Phoenix (5-3-1): 1.22 PTS/GM Edmonton (2-1-2): 1.20 PTS/GM Columbus (5-4-1): 1.10 PTS/GM Colorado (4-4-0): 1.00 PTS/GM St. Louis (4-4-1): 1.00 PTS/GM Anaheim (5-5-2): 1.00 PTS/GM Los Angeles (5-5-2): 1.00 PTS/GM Dallas (2-2-2): 1.00 PTS/GM

Obviously, it’s very early, so a hot streak or a cold streak are particularly exaggerated right now, but if we take each teams road/home PTS/GM and multiply them by 41, we get the exact pace of each team, with home and road records placed with equal value:

San Jose: 133 PTS Detroit: 132 PTS Minnesota: 119 PTS Anaheim: 100 PTS Vancouver: 100 PTS Calgary: 96 PTS Nashville: 92 PTS Edmonton: 90 PTS Colorado: 87 PTS Columbus: 81 PTS Phoenix: 81 PTS Chicago: 80 PTS Dallas: 75 PTS Los Angeles: 74 PTS St. Louis: 70 PTS

The Oilers are currently on pace for an eight place finish, which would have to be considered an underachievement. However, that’s largely based on their home record, which consists of a grand total of five games. Once there is a larger record to extrapolate from, we’ll have a better idea of where everybody sits.

It’s also worth noting that the Oilers have had far-and-away the most difficult schedule in the Western Conference. Even Dallas, the team with the second-most road games, has played 35 per cent of their games at home, while Edmonton has played just 26 per cent. Edmonton’s road record to date puts them in with the heavy-hitters of the Western Conference.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Douggy
November 19 2008, 06:34PM
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nice breakdown! makes me somehow feel better inside! what-chu talking bout willis?

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#2 David S
November 19 2008, 07:36PM
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Jonathan - Very nice! Context indeed.

You might want to skip over to the Oilers site and listen to Penner's off-day interview. Man he's in a pissy mood.

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#3 Jonathan Willis
November 19 2008, 08:02PM
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Thanks, David. That's a great little scrum.

Reporter: "So, you're taking a less is more approach to talking about this situation?"

Penner: "Hey, you're catching on."

Later...

Penner: "I'm saving it for the book I'm gonna write."

I've always liked Penner - and those are great comments to the press. He's handling it exactly right, not saying much of anything against the coach/team and showing the media a little snark to boot.

Also, the media finally questioned Garon's benching - Matheson's column today quotes him at length, and MacTavish basically says that he defers to Pete Peeters.

Those are really my two issues with MacT this year - the over-the-top criticism of Penner, and the benching of Garon. Barring behind-the-scenes stuff with a pretty big impact, both seem like errors.

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#4 |\|0081?|\|þ®1|\|(355
November 19 2008, 08:16PM
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I cant find it on the site, it isnt the interview from yesterday. Can someone post a link

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#5 Jonathan Willis
November 19 2008, 08:26PM
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http://oilers.nhl.tv/team/console.jsp

Second video on the right.

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#6 David S
November 19 2008, 08:49PM
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Jonathan - Looks like Garon had the flu last while. Louise (a knowledgeable long time poster on LT's site) let everybody in on it a few days ago. Garon's not ready because Peeters probably figures he doesn't have all his strength back. This makes more sense than some of the stuff people are putting out there. Ocham's Razor in action again.

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#7 canucklehead
November 19 2008, 08:56PM
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David S -

If Garon is sick, then why is he the back up instead of JDD? If he's not well enough to start, then he should be in the press box with a healthy JDD standing ready in case Roloson falters. The whole 3 goalie situation is completely asinine, but if you've got one sick guy and two healthy guys, why is one of the goalies dressing for the games the sick one?

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#8 mjsh
November 19 2008, 09:03PM
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It is a very nice context and somewhat along the lines of what I was thinking. I had the Oilers with the seventh best road record before last nights game. The concern is that they are not playing as well as we think they can play.

I for one had them winning the division, partly because they are better than last year and also because the rest of the division is weaker. Having said that, Vancouver and Minny look much better so far than I expected.

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#9 |\|0081?|\|þ®1|\|(355
November 19 2008, 09:30PM
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Much better than anyone expected

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#10 Jonathan Willis
November 19 2008, 09:41PM
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David - Yeah, I saw that. It's too bad Louise doesn't chime in more; her insight is always appreciated.

Canucklehead - Because Craig MacTavish is crazy with goaltenders. When he's got three, he alternates his backups without fail, presumably to keep their heads in the game.

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#11 Dennis
November 19 2008, 09:57PM
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I like Penner as well but it's gross that he's a pro making that much coin and has to constantly be reminded to stay in shape.

No excuses for that one.

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#12 Jonathan Willis
November 20 2008, 12:32AM
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Dennis - no excuses for him, and I won't argue that he's worth the money, because it's a lot. A better bet than Todd Bertuzzi for the same, but that's damning with faint praise.

The one thing about Penner is that he's never really going to be valued by fans for what he does, because his results>style. He is adapting to different ice-time, and performing well in a narrow get-the-puck forward sort of way. RiversQ pointed out the other day the low shots on goal, and someone else pointed out a bunch of offensive zone faceoffs, so it isn't all good, but I'm reasonably satisfied with his on-ice performance (Steen giveaway notwithstanding).

Staying in shape would seem to be an issue, and there aren't many excuses for that, but Penner's bright and he'll figure it out.

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#13 Hemmer
November 20 2008, 03:44AM
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I thought MacT was calling Penner out on work ethic and that, not about being in shape? Penner was one of the fittest Oilers out of training camp.

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#14 Rick
November 20 2008, 08:52AM
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On Penner - I didn't watch the interview so I am just going off of what was mentioned here but him still being in a pissy mood about the situation is just the next natural step in what went on.

That was the whole point wasn't it?

You call a player out to find out one of two things. To confirm that he will never be anything more than an ambivalent hockey player, in which case does it matter if he holds a grudge or not? Why would they want to keep him if this is the best he can deliver?

Or he gets the message and it marks a turning point in his career in which case his grudge or hard feelings will be short lived because the results of playing up to his capabilities will be too much for him to ignore.

The schedule - It's probably premature to project the Oilers aginst the entire league at this stage of the season.

An obvious case in point would be by looking at Minnesota. They are like a photo negative of the Oilers in that Edmonton has traditionally made a lot of hay down the stretch. Not that you want to depend on it but it is what it is.

Minnesota on the other hand seems to always light the league on fire in the first few months of the season only to fade after Christmas. Look at what their goals against is projected to be based on their current stats. It just isn't realistic that they will keep their pace, which would reconfirm their trend.

Interesting enough though, if you compare this years squad to where they were at this time last year you see an even more optimistic picture.

This year after 19 games they have 20 points, this time last year they had 13.

Although the biggest question remains how the hell did they manage 20 points based on how they have actually played their games this year...still a very hard team to figure out.

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#15 milli
November 20 2008, 09:06AM
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Does anyone really think Kz will fire macT? I still think he coaches this entire season, and if they make the playoffs and maybe win a round he stays on, but if they miss or get destroyed early first round, he goes upstairs and we get a new coach next season???? And ya, if Garon is the starter, why isn't he starting? Kelly Hrudey was talking about how Garon lacks mental toughness and how Roli is a stud, I dunno, you all are alot closer to the team....do you hear any of this or is it just cause Mact loves roli? I think Roli has been solid, but I've never seen a starter lose his job SO FAST. Doesn't make any sense.

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#16 Jonathan Willis
November 20 2008, 09:27AM
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Milli - It doesn't make a lot of sense to not start Garon, but David S above refers to a comment by Louise, and Louise really knows her stuff. I believe her when she says that Garon has had the flu.

I think MacTavish will be fired if the Oilers are sitting in 8th (or lower) at about the midpoint of the season. I just don't think the team will be sitting in 8th.

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#17 Rick
November 20 2008, 09:54AM
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I guess I am alone in thinking that it makes sense for Garon to not be getting games right now. Flu or no flu.

Rollie has played quite well since he took over for JDD. Even in the losses he has been very good. And this coming from a guy that is not a fan of his.

The problem I see with constantly switching back and forth after the first loss is that it gives an impression that the problems are in net. Which is clearly not what is ailing the club right now. By continuing with the same guy between the pipes it shines the light back on the players.

The only objection I have with Garon is that MacT had some pretty pointed comments about him after the Pittsburgh game and I would have really liked to have seen Garon get a chance to shove it back in MacT's face. But that time has passed.

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#18 Braden
November 20 2008, 10:32AM
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Context isn't using 6 and 7 game samples.

Someone wins tonight and all the sudden they're 1.2 PPG instead of 0.8 PPG.

That's not context, that's a reach from a MacTavish lackey.

MacTavish is the weak link in Edmonton and always will be.

The idiot didn't even know that Peca was supposed to be in a checking role until Peca had a meeting with him.

MacTavish has never had success with the PP and never had success with goalies. Both are two big problems again this year. Nothing has changed and nothing ever will until MacTavish is taking out back and skulled.

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#19 Braden
November 20 2008, 10:35AM
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"The Oilers are currently on pace for an eight place finish, which would have to be considered an underachievement. However, that’s largely based on their home record, which consists of a grand total of five games."

And here I was thinking it was because Nilsson, Gagner, Horcoff, Cole, Penner, Coglinao are all having slump seasons. This team has bigger issues than scheduling.

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#20 Braden
November 20 2008, 10:39AM
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David S: Never mentioned it last year but I love the error stat. I noticed that some of the guys around lowetide's blog gave you a hard time but personally I think it's a lot better than most of the stuff that they cling to at behind the net. You working on it again this year?

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#21 Jonathan Willis
November 20 2008, 01:33PM
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Braden: I love it when the Peca/MacTavish story is trotted out because it assumes that Peca didn't play like crap in a checking role for the first half of the season. Go back and look at the game charts and you'll see what I'm talking about.

If you look closely, you'll see that we're making the same argument and that you misunderstood my comment RE: "largely based on their home record". The sample there is so small that we can't draw much from it. What we can draw from the 14-game road sample is that MacTavish is coaching a top-5 road team in the WC, which certainly meets expectations.

Also RE: the powerplay, I love how guys harp on what is a league-average unit. The real problem has been the PK, which was always a MacTavish strength. The problems there, IMO, are poor use of existing resources (Pouliot, Cogliano vs. Penner, Gagner) and the departure of Marty Reasoner and Jarret Stoll, both of whom were mainstays.

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#22 Jonathan Willis
November 20 2008, 01:34PM
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Also, RE: the error stat, if, say Visnovsky and Strudwick are on the ice together, how many passes do you think each makes? If Visnovsky's handling the puck at three times the rate Strudwick is, and generally doing a good job of it, but makes one bad pass that ends up in the back of the net, what does the error stat say about it?

It says that Strudwick's a better defensive player than Visnovsky, when in point of fact the issue is that Strudwick isn't anywhere near Visnovsky's calibre in terms of puck movement.

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#23 Gord
November 20 2008, 03:35PM
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Their record isn't reflective of our play. I've mentioned this every time I've posted - the current record shouldn't be the concern - it's the lack of preperation and motivation on the ice. The fact that the Oilers haven't put 60 minutes of effort into more than 2 games this season is a bit disturbing. Look at the last Detroit game - no one expects us to beat Detroit every time out, but a little effort in looking like an NHL calibre team would be a nice start.

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#24 Jonathan Willis
November 20 2008, 04:31PM
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Their record isn’t reflective of our play. That argument does have some merit, and I don't disagree.

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