Meaningful Games in April

Jonathan Willis
April 09 2013 08:48AM

One of the items that the optimists watching the Edmonton Oilers have pointed to as a sign of progress is the fact that the team is playing meaningful games this late in the season. They were still in it at the deadline and they were still in it in April; these are big improvements over previous years.

Or are they?

It Isn’t A Normal Season

The fact is, with the compressed schedule, being in the hunt in April of this year is roughly akin to being in the hunt in January if last year; at 40 games, the difference between the also-rans and the nearly-ins and the barely-ins is a lot smaller than it is after 80 games.

That becomes pretty clear when comparing the Oilers’ record this season after 39 games to the Oilers’ record last season after 39 games:

  • 2013: 16-16-7, 39 points, minus-7 goal differential
  • 2011-12: 16-20-3, 35 points, minus-4 goal differential

It’s a four point improvement, but in terms of wins and losses the Oilers are actually in the exact same position as they were one season ago; the difference is entirely the result of four losses taking place after regulation rather than in 60 minutes. The Oilers slumped in the last half of 2011-12, while in 2013 there is no last half of the season to slump in. Ultimately, though, they’re at a pretty comparable place to where they were a year ago.

The difference is that the 39th game a year ago was the start of January; this time it’s the start of April.

The Shot Numbers

Another item to consider is goaltending. The single-biggest factor in the Oilers’ late season slump in 2011-12 was Nikolai Khabibulin’s implosion, just as the single-biggest factor in their early season dominance was Khabibulin’s brilliance. He went 11-8-3 with a 0.932 save percentage before Christmas, then 1-12-4 with a 0.881 save percentage afterward. In other words: the team’s early success and late failure was distorted first by Khabibulin’s excellence and then his struggles.

This year, the goaltending’s been solid throughout, giving the Oilers an advantage last year’s team didn’t have. If we remove goaltending from the equation, and just look at shots for and shots against, how does this year’s group compare to last year’s?

  • 2013: 1055 shots for, 1281 against; Oilers take 45.2% of all shots
  • 2011-12: 2186 shots for, 2518 shots against; Oilers take 46.5% of all shots

Basically, although individual players (hello, Taylor Hall) have taken significant strides, the team as a whole isn’t doing any better at out-shooting the opposition. That’s a problem, and suggests that the improvements the team has made are only skin deep. If not for Devan Dubnyk taking the starting job and running with it, there might be some uncomfortable questions being asked of the management group right now.

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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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#101 Butters
April 09 2013, 04:25PM
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@2004Z06 I think consistency and talent level are inter-connected. When talented team's top players are inconsitent, their secondary players appeat to pik up the slack and the team as a whole appears more consistent. The Oilers just don't have enough talent yet imho.

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#102 MAC962
April 09 2013, 06:44PM
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JW What can we do to say thanks to Andy Sutton ? I feel he was a great team mate and wish we had him a few years ago. The man was dangerous. I feel for any athelete having to pack it in because of injury.

Not sure if you read this Andy, probably not. But in case, Thanks for being an Oiler and all the best to you and your family from here on in. Once an Oiler always an Oiler.

Anyone care to add ?

Good Luck Andy Sutton.

MAC

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#103 Clay (The Butcher) Butchart
April 09 2013, 06:55PM
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Meaningful games or not, I will still watch the games that are left. I will also still be expecting the lads to put in a full effort. I dont get to slack off at my job in spite of not getting a bonus.

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#104 Rama Lama
April 09 2013, 07:39PM
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@Will

Sometimes management should be judged not for what they have done.......but for what they should have done.

Our AHL team is littered with all of Tamby's failed experiments and next year you can add another three or four players. We win five games and he changes his whole outlook and strategy.........hang on players that should have been moved........and tells the masses he did not want to send the wrong message by trading away players.

This is wrong on so many levels, and shows a complete lack of vision and leadership. This team will never win a championship with incompetent leadership, if non-hockey people can see this, what do you think the players are thinking?

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#105 GVBlackhawk
April 09 2013, 08:05PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

I dunno GV, Horcs 8 pts, against Smithsons 5, granted Shawn did miss a game or two with a hangnail or sumfim. Neck and neck really, one strong game from Jarred and they're tied.

Could the Oilers taking Smithson off of Dale Tallons hands be setting up a larger off season deal? Don't see why the need to even offer Smithson another deal, huh, eh, nudge nudge wink wink, especially if Edmonton is so married to that Horcoff albatross. Both do the same thing really. This certainly was no Sather/Willy Lindstrom type deadline deal. Perhaps it was in Tambellinis mind (being in a playoff spot at the time) though, I guess, no?

Hold your ear to a seashell and you will know what is going on in Tambellini's mind.

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#106 Dog Train
April 09 2013, 10:24PM
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Thanks for the analysis JW. I was kind of wondering how much improvement we really made this season.

The mix needs to change. This is more than just fixing the bottom D pairing or the fourth line. If we want to improve our depth, we need to add guys who can bump guys like Ryan Smyth and Nick Schultz down in the lineup. Unfortunately, this play in meaningful games garbage will be the rallying cry for management to keep their jobs and continue to do nothing. I am not a huge Ralph Krueger fan but he is already the 4th coach who hasn't been able to win with Tambellini's squad.

Accountability needs to start at the top, not the bottom. It's getting awfully frustrating realizing how woefully incompetent this franchise is. Anybody who buys the hockeynews' draft preview every season could have put this team together.

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#107 Walter Sobchak
April 09 2013, 11:04PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

1-8 down the stretch please. Blowing the Lames out by a touchdown will be fine for me. This team clearly needs more lottery type help sooner rather than later. If the kids aren't on/win it by themselves, the veterans are often nowhere to be found. A Vet of two out, and another rookie in please.

Hemsky,Gagner,Horcoff,Smyth and Whitney yada yada yada, all missing in action when needed most. Nothing but a bunch of prima donnas when it mattered most. This team isn't going anywhere till most, if not all of these guys are gone. Being the shot blocking gurus of the NHL is only a reflection of the puck always being in our end.

Solid article Jonathan, if any, only micro improvements have been made. The kids are doing more whilst the vets do even less.

Agreed, props.

Might I add throwing in butter soft Paajarvi, Jones, Petry, maybe some GM out there can bake a cake with with these guys.

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#108 Oilfred
April 10 2013, 09:50AM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Agreed, props.

Might I add throwing in butter soft Paajarvi, Jones, Petry, maybe some GM out there can bake a cake with with these guys.

MPS and Petry are vets now?

wow.

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