Through eleven games the Oilers have exceeded everyone’s expectations, even their own if you put them on a polygraph, but as they get set to head out on six-game road there are numerous questions surrounding the team.
1. How many league categories are the Oilers leading?
- They have the lowest team GAA at 1.46. The Kings are the only other team surrendering less than two goals a game with a 1.91 GAA. The Oilers have been incredibly good in their own zone.
- They have the most giveaways with 163. The Flames are 2nd with 130 while the Habs are 3rd with 113. Pittsburgh is 4th with 94. The Oilers will need to cut down on the GvA if they want to keep winning. I do wonder how consistent this stat is marked from rink-to-rink, but considering the Oilers have 70 more giveaways than 26 other teams, I’d suggest it is a major concern.
- They are tied with the Dallas Stars for most too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties. They had three in the first five games, and only one in the last six, so they are improving, but their changes in the 2nd period have been brutal at times.
- They are a perfect 1.000% when trailing after the first period. Of course it has only happened once, but they are 1-0 when trailing after the first. Slow starts killed this team last year and that hasn’t been the case this year. Funny enough the Oilers are 30th in the league when leading after 20 minutes. The Oilers are 1-2-2, good for 0.200 success rate. Who would have guessed that fast starts would actually hurt them? It is a stat that doesn’t jive with their success.
- They are tied with Carolina for most games with even shot totals. The Oilers are 1-0-1 when they have the same shots as the opposition. Carolina is 0-2 when tied in shots. Yes, I know another obscure stat.
- They are tied with the Stars and Hawks for most points in the West with 16. The Oilers didn’t register their 16th point until November 25th last season.
- Nikolai Khabibulin leads the league in GAA at 1.12, while Dubnyk is 8th at 1.98.
- Khabibulin leads in SV% as well with a sparkling .960, while Dubnyk is 6th at .938.
- Ladislav Smid is first in blocked shots with 40. As a team the Oilers are 3rd with 184. In case you are wondering, last year the Oilers were 10th with 1,219.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads all rookies in goals (5), in points (11), in powerplay points (6) and home points (11). He is a lock to win rookie of the month for October. Only Phil Kessel has more home points (14) than RNH.
- The Oilers also have the biggest improvement in waiver wiring positioning. They started the year with first crack at waivered players, but as of today every team except Chicago and Pittsburgh would choose ahead of them.
It has been two years since the Oilers led in any category, other than sucking, so this month has been a welcome change for the organization and their fans.
Ales Hemsky will be on the road trip, but it’s not certain when he will dress. He likely won’t play Thursday in LA, but there is a good chance he could suit up next Tuesday in Montreal. Last year he also returned to the lineup in Montreal, after missing three games, and picked up three points, unfortunately he re-aggravated his injury that night and proceeded to miss the next ten games. For his sake, I hope that doesn’t happen again.
When Hemsky returns, Tom Renney is going to have to make a few difficult decisions.
Who does he take out of the lineup and where does he play Hemsky?
For many it seems obvious that he will slot in on the RW with Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth. That would seem like the obvious choice, but if that line, along with Ryan Jones, continues to play well, I wonder if he’d look at playing Hemsky with Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner.
Gagner has been okay on the wing, and he and Paajarvi had some great chances in the 3rd period v. St. Louis, but up until then they hadn’t had much chemistry with Eric Belanger.
Renney will need a go-to, reliable line on the road, and he has that with the Horcoff line. Would he surprise some people and try to jumpstart Paajarvi and Gagner by playing them with Hemsky? Those two combos along with the Hall/RNH/Eberle line would give him three potential scoring lines.
What combos would you like to see Renney use once Hemsky returns?
ODD MAN OUT
In previous years here on the Nation, the return of Hemsky would have started a heated debate over which under-performing forward should come out of the lineup. This year, however, the decision is much harder, because no one is playing that bad, but barring an injury in the next few games Renney will have to make a choice.
The candidates seem to be Lennart Petrell, Ben Eager, Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander. Sam Gagner has only played five games, so he gets a longer leash, but he’d be the only other possibility at this point.
I’d keep Paajarvi in and I’d seriously consider playing him with Hemsky. He definitely needs to be more consistent, but I wouldnt’ plant him in the pressbox just yet.
Petrell doesn’t make any mistakes. He is solid in his own end, leads all forward in blocked shots and is tied for the team lead in hits (18) with Smid. He has played his role exceptionally well. He doesn’t add much offence, although he’s had some great chances the past few games, but that’s not what Renney wants from him. He has been a very solid 4th liner. He and Lander have been a solid 3rd PK pairing.
Eager is starting to play better, although I’d like him to be a bit more emotionally involved. He is an excellent skater for a big man and he doesn’t give the puck away. He doesn’t kill penalties, but he is the only forward with any sort of truculence in his game, and that will keep in him v. certain teams.
Lander impresses me more every game. I love how hard he competes, he has very good positional play and he rarely turns over the puck. If Renney considers moving Gagner to the middle, Lander is probably the odd man out. I think he has been more effective than Belanger in most aspects, except in the dot, and I think he is going to be a vital piece of the puzzle in the near future. If Lander comes out, I’d ship him to OKC because he needs to be playing.
I’d take out Lander, and move Gagner to the middle. They will either put Jones or Hemsky on his RW. I like Gagner more in the middle because he needs the puck to be effective. He is better at cycling the puck, than attacking on the rush, so maybe Jones is a better fit for him, but I’d be curious to see him with 83 and 91 for a short time.
Who would you take out?
- It sounds like Cam Barker could be back Thursday in LA, but with Ryan Whitney still a few weeks away, and Andy Sutton likely suspended, don’t be surprised if the Oilers call up Colten Teubert at some point on this trip. He’s been playing very well in OKC and the Oilers want to give him a look.
- Khabibulin has to be the biggest surprise in Edmonton, but he isn’t the only player making a surprising comeback. Sheldon Souray has eight points and is +8, while playing 20 minutes a night in Dallas. Considering Souray was a combined -64 in his previous five NHL seasons, his +8 figure is a huge surprise.
- Another former Oiler is off to shocking start as well. Marc-Andre Bergeron is 2nd amongst NHL D-men with 12 points, and eight of them are at EV, which is tops in the league. He’s been playing top-four minutes in Tampa and averaging over 16 min EV/game.