Four Games In

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.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Were “not” in panic mode.Yet. It has been as expected. A little good,bad and and a little ugly. Colorado is a team on par with us and tonight should be a good test of both young teams. Kind of a measuring stick so to speak.

    If your the Florida Panthers do you make a move? Is anyone watching in Florida or Phoenix who would actually notice?

    Is the NHL still on the hook for the Coyotes? I remember something about possible new ownership but its Phoenix so really who cares what they do? If attendance remains steady there they should lose 30 million a year easily. Thank you City of Glenndale for taxpayer suported sports.

  • Vaclav

    Us Oiler fans do need to temper our emotions a little bit so early in the season.

    Having said that, it’s time for some of the vets (Horcoff, Smyth, Whitney) to open their eyes, yawn, stretch and roll off their mattress made of money and realize that the season has actually started.

  • I think this is a development year and if playoffs happen so be it, but it’s going to take a lot of positive bounces.
    Saturday night, Iggy’s line vs kids looked like men amongst boys. Yeah, the boys could dangle and skate circles, but when they met the men head on, it was game over. And when the men decided to take control it was no contest.
    The way I see there’s 2 options: (1) Line match and try and claw out every victory possible and risk the development of your kids against tough competition. Or (2) let them go against the toughs and become better for it int he long term.
    That’s going to be part of the process. This takes time. Kids gotta learn that winning includes backchecking and sacrifice night in and night out. That’s going to take a while.
    One objection I do have is the major lack of #94 as a fixture in front of the other team’s net. He doesn’t get the opportunity nearly enough anymore and he should. Not only will he score or create goals, but also demonstrate to the kids what it takes to get your nose dirty.

  • This is exactly right. Calm down. No pre season games obviously has had an effect, not just on the oilers but a lot of teams. I think everyone over hyped the fact edmonton would have a hot start based on the young guys playing in the AHL.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Hoping Taylor Hall can just remain upright for one night. Of the fab 5, he’s the Weeble Wobble fall down champion. Get it together captain Snowypants!

    The 18 yr old Yakupov is much stronger on his feet/skates his very first year in the league.

      • DSF

        I watched the Hot Stove and everyone was analyzing Yakupov and his aggressiveness and the physicality he’s shown so far wasn’t brought up. He’s got some nice jam in his game and I could see after these four games why he’s called mini-Ovi. I like what he brings to the top 6 because it’s a skill set that is not present within their top 2 lines. Also Gagner’s looked stronger and quicker this year and has finished his checks at almost every opportunity, even if he doesn’t keep up this pace I like how much he’s changed his game this season. Still only 1 year older than Eberle so I think they should give him a shot to see if his defensive game can continue to improve. It’s not like Sakic or Yzerman came out of the gates as Selke candidates.

  • Yes this team is a bit of both. When you think of the defense and lack of secondary scoring (hello five on five and hey third and fourth lines, wanna chip in?), this is probably not a playoff team. But a team can catch fire so who knows…could happen.

  • 4 games in …and I don’t see a use for Horcoff on the powerplay after winning the faceoff.

    Win the faceoff gain possession and get off Horcoff.

    Can someone remember when the last time Horcoff deflected or tapped one in while standing in front of the goalie?? His stupid penalty against the flames was his contribution – brutal!

    Hartikanen even Pjaarvi…time to pass the torch of the rump creating the screen…

  • If you treat this team as a stock, it has tanked in the last few years, so this is a new year and they are tanking again, you look at the chart and you short this team based on probability. Yes it is possible the arrow could go up but it is probable the arrow goes down.

    This team was suppose to have a fast start because it’s main core players played and excelled during the lockout.


    • justDOit

      The only people bragging up the AHL experience for Edmonton were media types. The first few games have shown that the only league that can prepare you for the NHL – is the NHL.

      • Eddie Shore

        The okc kids have been our best players. They came ready to play. From what I’ve seen, that line has been creating chances every game (didnt see the game on Saturday). The rest of the squad needs to comtribute or else we will not finish anywhere near a playoff spot.

        • justDOit

          I didn’t say anything about how they’ve played so far – I’m merely pointing out that the impact of their AHL experience has been over-blown. This ‘fast start’ is nowhere to be seen. They’ve only won the games they did because VAN and LAK shat the bed.

  • justDOit

    Yes, it’s important to remember that they beat both VAN and LAK (barely), but don’t forget too, that both clubs are not close to being the teams they were last year.

    The Oilers won’t be adding two NHL defenders to the roster later this year (LAK), nor will they be adding a Kesler-type center (VAN). So the Oilers stand a diminishing chance of repeating victories against these teams.

    Improvement from certain players will undoubtedly be seen, they’ll get Jones back at some point fairly soon, and better play should result from getting in sync with Coach K’s plan. But barring a WOW trade (Weber or Woywitka), it’s going to be nearly impossible to get off the mat this year.

  • CopperBlueBalls

    i usually go 20 games to start trying to get a feel for a team, but 12 seems like a good number for a shortened season. I feel that we have too much talent to not make the playoffs. Krueger has so far done some excellent coaching. We just need some better dicipline and some competent reffing.

  • RE: Hot start for guys in OKC.

    Seven players on the Edmonton Oilers have more than one point through the first four games.

    Every single one of them played professional hockey somewhere during the lockout.

    Three guys are tied for the team lead with five points – and they’re the three best Barons from the early AHL season: Hall, Eberle, Schultz.

  • Panic mode on , as it should be ! A palty 11 goals in first 4 games,and Fab 3 (Eberle, Hall and Hopkins ) line not doing much offensively or defensively . They should have been doing much better considering the jump they had on most of the players . Only the stellar play of J. Schultz is making them look not bad . Every game they get behind the eight ball in first periods .

    Their compete level is often weak and sporadic at best . Breakup the fab 3 for starters . They may carry us in thev future , but they are certainly not doin now .

    A respectful 13 goals against considering the poor play of team and most defencemen . Can hardly judge Dubnyk on first 4 games . Time to get Fab 3 going , or we are going to the bottom of league again . We have enough problems without them not playing well . I can’t find an excuse for their underperforoing play .

  • CopperBlueBalls

    It would be interesting to see the mid season standings to compare to the standings you posted, as the “midsession” standings will be the final standings for this season.

    • justDOit

      Speeds: Do you agree with LeBrun that the Flames should be ranked 29th? I’ve watched them quite a bit so far, and I think they’ll be much better than this ranking suggests.

  • I think there is some definite good and bad to take away. The good is our future looks bright, the bad is that our past is still dragging us down. Getting Jones back will help the third line a bunch, and getting Eager back will solidify that fourth line again. I think once those things happen we can start to finally get some offence from our bottom six.

    If we could immediately improve in one area, it would be to take less penalties.

  • justDOit

    Still have not seen the Oilers get the early lead and force teams to open up. That’s exactly what the Oilers should want, a game with a lot of flow and scoring chances.

    Instead, they’ve been chasing for a very large majority of the season to date, giving up early goals and taking unnecessary penalties in the 1st period. This needs to be changed if the Oilers expect to make the playoffs.

  • 2004Z06

    Actually Horcoff was responsible for the screen in front of Kipper on the Schultz goal. the problem is that no one seems to want to go to the net consistently. Too many “pretty passes” getting picked off by sticks in the lanes. Get it to the point, park someone in front and SHOOT!

  • DSF

    Now that most teams have made a decision on whether or not to send their rookies back to junior, here’s a peek at how the rookie crop tnat will be staying up in the NHL are faring early on:

    1) Tarasenko 6GP 4G 4A 8P +5

    2) Conacher 5GP 2G 5A 7P +4

    3) Schultz 4GP 2G 3A 5P +1

    4) Huberdeau 5GP 1G 2A 3P +0

    5) Galchenyuk 4GP 1G 2A 3P +2

    6) Hamilton 4GP 0G 3A 3P +0

    7) Yakupov 4GP 2G 0A 2P -2

    8) Irwin 5GP 1G 1A 2P +2

    9) Granlund 5GP 1G 1A 2P +1

    10) Gallagher 3GP 1G 1A 2P +2

    Interesting that all but one of these rookies has a positive plus/minus or is even despite the perception that they should be weak defensively.

      • DSF

        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.

        • justDOit

          Are you going to formulate some sort of ‘correction factor’ for comparing two rookies who play on teams finishing 28 positions apart in league standings?

          Or how about another CF for comparing 18 and 22 yr old rookies?

          • DSF

            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.

          • Word to the Bird

            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?

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            yes… but probably not in the ways you’d expect (or maybe in the ways you would)…

            ie., having a great year on a great, upstart, or big market team is better for you because it grants you exposure and narratives that performing well on a middling, small market team never gets. even though performing on a crap team might be more impressive… unless that manages to itself become a dominant narrative.

            being a number pick (yak) or a highly discussed FA signing (Schultz) is going to be an advantage as they are already in the minds and narratives of the press.

        • 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.

  • Spydyr

    4 Games in and nothing has changed.

    They still need:

    1) A top 4 D-man.

    2) A young goalie with upside to push Dubbie.

    3) Some grit and toughness in the top 6.

    I’m sure MR. Dithers is all over it.

  • vetinari

    I keep finding myself switching from optimism to pessimism with this edition of the team:

    “Hey, about of a dozen of our players were active on other professional teams during the lockout– that should give us a jump, right?”

    “Wait a second, how can we beat Vancouver and LA, but lose to Calgary?”

    “How can we have a complete meltdown in the first period with SJ but then hold them scoreless the next two?”

    “How can the kids have such bad defensive meltdowns but lead the team in scoring?”

    “How can the vet’s like Smyth, Horcoff and Whitney be so non-effective, especially since these guys used to be our first liners?”

    “What is going on this game/period/shift with our forwards/defencemen/goalies?”

    At the end of it all, I have to say that we are inconsistent because we have a young team at our core and the vets are now primarily the role players. There are going to be growing pains.

  • justDOit

    Hmmm, I really thought Granlund was going to make a bigger impact early on.

    As for being a few games in, outside of the Oilers there have been a few surprises for me. The Hawks are dominating their division, and pretty much everyone else. They’ve always been a team with all the pieces, but need their top players to put those pieces together, and so far this year they are really showing what a team like that can do.

    St. Louise, as I initially thought, is really good and will content for presidents trophy, but get kicked out of playoffs ala last year.

    Rangers, what is happening to the team nearly everyone pegged to finish first in the league?

    Philli, is a young team and is showing it this year.

    Carolina seems like a team of individuals.

    Tampa finally got some goal tending and will likely be a regular season threat.

    San Jose is playing like the sharks from five years ago. Where is the whole, this is the year they fade away thing, because they obviously didn’t get the memo.

    Any other surprises? The teams I’m most interested in around the league are Buffalo, Dallas, Tampa, Minnesota, and Montreal, all for different reasons.

  • justDOit

    If we’re comparing players in their draft years, how about Justin Schultz vs his 2008 peers:

    2:Drew Doughty

    3:Zach Bogosian

    4:Alex Pietrangelo

    5:Luke Schenn

    12: Tyler Myers

    13: Colten Teubert

    15: Erik Karlsson

    17: Jake Gardiner

    19: Luca Sbisa

    20: Michael Del Zotto

    23: Tyler Cuma

    27: John Carlson

    43: Justin Schultz

    8th in scoring by defensemen in the NHL (still second in scoring in the AHL, behind fellow 2008 draft pick Jordan Eberle,) leads his team in minutes played, and looks like the real deal. There are a great number of great defenders in the 2008 draft, and it will be interesting to see where Schultz ends up.

  • justDOit

    All I’ve seen of the Flames this year is the Oilers game, and I thought they looked pretty good.

    I don’t think they are the 29th best team in the league, but I think they are closer to that than the playoffs. That said, anything can happen in a short year. If Kiprusoff continues his recent “trend”, and this is a down year, CAL could well be picking top 5.

  • justDOit

    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.

  • 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