Last night’s loss to the Phoenix Coyotes feels like a turning point, somehow. Flush with the successes of October, fans largely forgave the Oilers a disappointing six-game road-trip. Alternating wins and losses over a two game home stand and a four-game road trip was accepted, because with five games at home coming up on the schedule the Oilers could make up some ground.
They didn’t. Instead, the Oilers dropped four of five, most of them to teams well below them in the standings. That stretch was followed by an ugly loss to Calgary, and then last night’s embarrassment at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes – a team the Oilers should have had an advantage on, given their five-day break and the fact the Coyotes had lost to a miserable Anaheim club the night before.
Now, over the team’s last 19 games, they’ve gone a miserable 6-12-1.
If we ignore the Oilers hot start to the season, that 6-12-1 pace translates to 56 points – six fewer than last year’s 30th-place club managed. Understandably, it’s provoked a lot of reaction.
In a strong piece last night, Robin Brownlee argued that the truth lies somewhere between the Oilers’ glorious start and the ineptitude of the last month and a half. He argues that the Oilers’ current 12th-place position is right in line with what sensible fans should have been expecting from day one. Jason Gregor wrote earlier today that “the same problems that have plagued this team for years have crept back into their game.” Both points are valid, and both takes make sense.
Yet, with respect to both of my Oilers Nation colleagues, the most interesting item I read today about the Oilers’ latest struggles came from the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples. Staples breaks down the scoring chances over the last 17 games and finds an ugly comparison to last season’s team:
- 2011-12 Oilers, first 14 games: 17.6 chances for per game, 17.8 chances against (-0.2 per game)
- 2011-12 Oilers, last 17 games: 15.8 chances for per game, 20.8 chances against (-5.0 per game)
- 2010-11 Oilers, full season: 14.8 chances for per game, 19.1 chances against (-4.3 per game)
Put simply, the Oilers scoring chances over this last stretch tell us the same thing their record does: that they’ve been playing a lot like – maybe even a little worse than – last year’s team did over their full season.
Goal differential tells a similar story. The Oilers 8-2-2 start was powered primarily by goaltending and a hot stretch for two lines – and it resulted in them outscoring their opposition 22 to 14. Since then, the Oilers have scored 53 goals and allowed 70 (this includes a 9-2 defeat of Chicago at home) – a full season pace of 229 goals for and 302 against, for a goal differential of minus-73. Last season, the Oilers posted a goal differential of minus-76.
There are extenuating circumstances. The Oilers have played 11 of their last 19 games on the road, and just eight at home, and teams typically perform worse on the road. Given how Edmonton’s young players have struggled away from Rexall, that’s particularly true in the Oilers’ case.
If anything, after reviewing the data I’m a little less optimistic than Brownlee was in his piece. The Oilers are just two points up on where they were one season ago, and while teams like Columbus and Anaheim have been racing to the bottom the Oilers are only three points up on Tampa Bay for a spot in the draft lottery.
Also worth noting is that the schedule stays ugly for the rest of December. The Oilers finish the month with a game in Long Island, but before that will play the Sharks, Red Wings, Canucks and two games against the Wild. If the team can’t find a way to power through some tough opponents, they could be in a lottery position before Christmas.