Four Games In

Jonathan Willis
January 28 2013 08:49AM

The Edmonton Oilers have played four games now. They beat Vancouver to start the season, and all was well. They got smoked by the Sharks, and things were awful. They beat the defending champions in overtime, and all was well again. Finally, on Saturday they lost to Calgary and once again things were terrible.

Are they the team that went toe-to-toe with Western powers Vancouver and L.A., or the team that was humiliated by San Jose and outplayed by the Flames? My guess is that they’re somewhere in the middle.

What That Guess Isn’t Based On

In 2011-12, the Oilers played their fourth game of the season on October 17. They beat Nashville, putting them 2-1-1 on the year – the same as this year in other words, save with a shootout loss in place of one regulation loss. In the East, the Rangers, Bruins and Panthers would eventually win their divisions; on October 17 only the Panthers were in the playoff picture and the Rangers were languishing in last place in the East. Out West, eventual division champs Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix all sat well down in the standings, with the Canucks and Blues outside the playoffs with a losing record and the Coyotes tied with four teams for sixth place.

I’ve seen lots of comments along the lines of ‘how long can ____ afford to be patient?’ – not just in Edmonton, but also elsewhere. Washington Capitals fans have been particularly antsy on my Twitter feed – their team started 0-3-1 (before winning on Sunday night).

I get it, because a sports fan lives and dies with his/her team’s every loss, and with a shortened season everybody is acutely aware that every point matters. The problem is that a team’s performance over four games has minimal predictive value. Last year the Oilers went on a six-game winning streak to close out October, traded a win and a loss, and then lost four straight. If that six game winning streak happens at the opening of the year, they’re the young team finally putting the pieces together; if it’s the four-game losing streak than they’re bound for another first overall pick.

What The Guess Is Based On

Because we know that a very good team can have a rough start to the year – we’ve listed a bunch of examples above – and because we know that even a lousy team can have a good start to the year (the Edmonton Oilers went 6-2-1 under Pat Quinn to start the 2009-10 season, as one recent example), the first few games, even in a shortened season, should not dramatically alter our preseason expectations.

When I say that the Oilers are probably somewhere between world-beaters and a team that loses regularly to Calgary, that’s because I pegged them to finish just outside the playoffs before they had played a game.

I could very well be wrong on my prediction: I don’t have any more ability to see into the future than anyone else does. But I have no compelling reason to change my mind; the factors I weighed in the off-season (if I did a good job) are more likely to be predictive of the Oilers’ final finish than their record over four games.

When Will We Know?

We likely won’t really know where the Oilers are going to finish, exactly, until the bitter end. With that said, the first-quarter mark of the season – 12 games in – is the time where I’ll probably start reading something into the standings. Last season, 10 of the 16 playoff teams were in post-season position by then (side point: looking at the standings after 48 games – roughly the end of January 2012 – results in the same 10-of-16 figure).

There were still frauds at that point – on November 3rd, Toronto led the East with a 9-3-1 record and Edmonton was second in the West at 8-2-2. There were also some very good teams that hadn’t come on yet – Boston sat near the East’s basement with a 4-7-0 record, while St. Louis was 5-6-0. But there was enough information to start getting a read on what was happening around the league.

Two weeks from now, on Sunday, February 10, the Oilers will play their 12th game and their regular season will be one-quarter complete. That’s the point where I’ll start revising my expectations.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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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#51 Oiler Al
January 28 2013, 12:45PM
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AS pointed out, 4 games is no time to panic.Yes probably at game-14 is time to evaluate the proceedings and player stats.But what if the indicator dial falls on" trouble in paradise", then what. Ol Dithers, is not apt to make mid-season moves, and really what can you have out there without giving up one of the Fab Five! No GM is about to give you a Stud for a Dud.MacGregors genius just went down the drain, so there isnt much to gaze at in OKC at this time.

My point is forget about some WOW deal, stay the coarse. The plan should be in the next 10 games the coaching staff to gel this team, and have them play to their strenght, which is speed and puck movement [ without give aways].They are not going to intimidate anyone!.

The Vet's better change their ways, even though you might say they are not part of the problem, but they certainly not part of the solution at this point. [ you can insert names here if you like.

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#52 @Oilanderp
January 28 2013, 02:01PM
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The nomenclature for advanced stats is ridiculous. Anyway, the Oiler's 29th "PDO" suggests we will see better things. 5% shooting? Unsustainable. .892 sv %? This too won't last.

Things will get better

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#53 Walter Sobchak
January 28 2013, 02:45PM
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DSF wrote:

I wouldn't say it's his to lose since Tarasenko is just ripping it up although Schultz is doing very, very well.

If Tarasenko maintains his current pace, that would pro-rate to 109 points over a full season.

That would be pretty hard to overlook.

Considering he has played all of 6 games in NA,his performance has been outstanding but that also makes it hard to project.

Interesting that Tarasenko is one month younger than Taylor Hall and was taken in the same draft.

It'll be interesting to see how their rookie seasons compare.

Before the season started in was Granlund and the wild.

Now it's St.Louis and Terasenko.

Not that I really care, because both rookies will be players, however if you pick a player stick with that player.

It just seems that once Granlund slowed down you jumped at Terasenko.

Me,I could care a less, to me we have at least 4 potential Calder candidate to watch in the west this year.

I, being of sound bias mind choose Yakupov or Schultz.

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#55 Taylor Gang
January 28 2013, 03:45PM
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DSF wrote:

Oh, I agree that the comparison is weighted in Tarasenko's favour but it'll be interesting from the point of view of whether or not the player benefited from not being rushed into the league.

In looking at Tarasenko's performance thus far, he has 3 goals and 3 assists at even strength and only 3 points on the PP.

That he's put up those numbers while being 7th among Blue's forwards in TOI/G is very, very impressive.

Let's not jump to conclusions here, its 4 games into the season. If Marleau scores at the rate he's scoring at right now he'll score 86 goals. Do you not think that Tarasenko will hit some rookie mistakes?

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