The Oilers last nine games have even those people with deep concerns about the team (people like me) smiling. There’s something great about watching the home team win, and it has led to surprising levels of optimism.
Even Robin Brownlee, who has seen plenty of highs and lows during his time covering the Oilers, has suggested that a 0.500 record over their next 20 games is a reasonable over/under mark, and 50% of voters in the Oilers Nation poll predict that kind of finish or better.
All of that got me wondering: what are the Oilers doing now that they weren’t doing over their first 17 games? I wanted to see if the underlying numbers have improved along with their record over the last while, so I decided to compare their first 17 games to their last nine.
|Edmonton Oilers, Last Nine Games||6||2||1||66.67||3.11||2.33|
|Edmonton Oilers, First 17 Games||4||10||3||23.53||2.47||4.06|
The difference in win percentage over these two stretches is remarkable. The Oilers won less than one in four games to start the season, but they’ve been winning two out of three since. Their goal scoring has improved significantly, jumping from less than 2.5 goals per game up to over three. Meanwhile, goals against has been nearly cut in half, dropping from a high of more than four goals against per game to just over two.
What’s causing that improvement? A glance at shot totals and shooting/save percentage reveals the answer:
|Edmonton Oilers, Last Nine Games||25.56||33.89||12.17||93.11|
|Edmonton Oilers, First 17 Games||25.47||35.00||9.70||88.40|
The Oilers have made negligible improvements in shots for and against, with a tiny improvement in shots for and a larger one in shots against per game. The total effect is that instead of being outshot by an average of 9.53 shots per game as they were to start the season, the Oilers are being outshot by an average of 8.33 shots per game.
Things aren’t really as bad as they look at first glance – when teams take the lead, they tend to see more shots against and take fewer shots themselves. So the odds are good that the Oilers have made some improvements in their territorial game.
That said, over the last nine games they’ve been outshot eight times – the lone time the Oilers held a shots advantage was in a 4-1 win over Ottawa, where they fired 25 pucks on net to the Senators’ 23.
That said, the real reason the Oilers are on a winning streak right now is because of big percentage swings. The average save percentage of an Oilers goaltender over the last nine games is 0.931, up from 0.884 to start the year.
The first number is incredible – last year, Ryan Miller won the Vezina on the back of his 0.929 save percentage – and the Oilers have been getting that performance from youngster Devan Dubnyk, re-tread Martin Gerber, and a fresh off injured reserve Nikolai Khabibulin.
While I’d suggest, as I did at the time, that an 0.884 SV% is unsustainably bad for these goaltenders, I’d bet heavy money that they don’t finish the season anywhere near an 0.931 SV%.
The other change is in shooting percentage, which jumped from a pretty decent 9.7 percent (that number would have ranked fifth in the NHL last season) up to 12.2 percent. For perspective, here are the league leaders in shooting percentage for the last few years:
In other words, if the Oilers finished the season at their current shooting percentage rate, it would make them the team with the second most accurate shooters since the NHL lockout, behind only the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres.
While I’ll acknowledge that there are some offensively gifted players on the roster, I don’t think this is the greatest group of sharpshooters seen in the league since the NHL lockout.
The Oilers have put forth some strong performances over this mini-streak, but given that they’re still getting lit up on the shot clock every night, I don’t think they’ve turned the corner. I’m going to continue to enjoy the wins while they come, but I’m not willing to bet that this is going to be a 0.500 team anytime soon.