February 28 2009 09:26AM
There have been a lot of articles the last few days stating that the Oilers desperately need to boost their offense at the trade deadline. This morning, for example, TSN.ca ran an article which opened with “The Edmonton Oilers have a very clear need heading into the NHL's Trade Deadline, to boost offence on the top two lines.”
Even Craig MacTavish seems to believe that a lack of offense is the primary problem with his team – from today’s Joanne Ireland column:
“We need offence out of the forwards. It's as simple as that. They have to find a way to be productive offensively.”
"Largely it's offence. We have to find a way to score more goals. We're having a hard time scoring five-on-five goals, so any time our power play is not producing, as has been the case the last few games, we're having a difficult time."
My question: is offense really the primary problem with this team? Let’s use some simple numbers. The Oilers have scored 2.72 goals per game to this point in the season – that ranks 18th in the NHL; a little below league average and clearly not as good as it needs to be. On the other hand, the Oilers have allowed 2.98 goals against per game – 23rd in the NHL, and behind every single playoff team.
Based on those numbers, it seems clear that while the offense hasn’t been good, the defense is really the pressing concern. Those numbers I quoted are over the season as a whole, though, so let’s take a look at just the last ten games – perhaps there’s been a drop-off in offense. Here are the scores of the last ten games the Oilers played:
1-0L, 5-3W, 3-2SOL, 4-2L, 4-2L, 3-1W, 3-2W, 7-2W, 3-2SOL, 8-3L
That works out to 29 goals for and 31 goals against – 2.90 goals for per game and 3.10 goals against per game – and a team allowing more than three goals against per game isn’t going to win very many. What about Craig MacTavish’s assertion that the Oiler’s offense has been carried by the powerplay?
The Oilers have scored 39 5-on-4 goals (18th in the league), and 106 5-on-5 goals (20th in the league). I’m not convinced that a drop of two places is significant, so I’m inclined to say that the coach is wrong here.
On the other hand, the Oilers have allowed 109 5-on-5 goals (18th in the NHL) and 50 4-on-5 goals (24th in the NHL). Edmonton’s penalty-kill, at 77.9%, ranks 27th overall in the NHL. Although the overall number is only moderately better than it was a month ago, it hides a massive improvement – over the last ten games, the Oilers penalty kill has killed off 39 of 46 opportunities, an 84.7% success rate. It also means that the defensive problems over the last ten games have been primarily at even strength – and that, not scoring from the top-six forwards, has been the Oilers primary weakness over the last little while.