Meaningful Games in April

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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  • Mike Krushelnyski

    Oilers getting better minimally , or are other teams just getting worse ? Some progress with youth but negative for most of rest of team . Side note – why did we have noted bad faceoff Gagner taking last draw ? We simply are not making a good deal of progress and appear to be spiralling downward again . No movers or shakers in management from my perspective , even with MacT. and Howson . Dauntless task of revamping veteran core with upgrades with present group . We need a mover and shaker approach to take us out of this spiral , and i do not feel this management team is capable of it .

  • bleedingoil

    i would like to see the other 9 teams below us compared to themselves. We are no better, there are just 30 teams that are worse than comparables last year. Take our stats in the league last year and we are in a lottery position. Dont kid yourself, this team still sucks, does suck and will suck until massive changes happen. The 7 “untouchables” need to be touched before we see northern directions in standings. One or two of Hall, RNH, Ebs, Yak, JS19, PRV and Gags need to be moved for our first and hell, even one or two of our 2nd rounders. We need legit size in our top 6, a tough guy that can put the puck in the net, a Left handed stud and sorry DD, but we need a legit #1 starter. We all know who needs to go so why did we not let them go at the deadline? Now we have Hemsky injured again and Whitney will be a hard sell in the summer with a few better UFAs out there. The Oilers are an embarassing franchise, totally embarassing. RK? not doing it. the MacT line blender was used way to often.

    • bleedingoil

      Agree with a lot of what you said, except for the part about Dubnyk. I’m not sure what more this guy can do to prove he is a #1 goalie. He has a .923 save percentage which ranks 6th among goalies who have played in at least half of their team’s games. Sure, he has let in a few “soft” goals, but when a team has mediocre defense that gives up a ton of high quality scoring chances, I will take a .923 save percentage all day.

  • bleedingoil

    Small differences go a long ways. It’s all relative! 10 points more and the Oil would be division leaders or very close to it. 10 points less, and we’d be battling Calgary and Colorado for last in the league.

  • vetinari

    “Meaningful games in April”? It is only because of the shortened season that we were even close to a playoff spot at the trade deadline, but man, do we still suck.

    I think management’s decision-making on trade deadline day was, “hey, we don’t have to be better than average for more than 10-15 games to get into the playoffs, and then anything could happen”, so they stayed pat and only added Smithson to the mix (seriously– how can this guy have played close to 600 NHL games and still be almost unknown by every hockey fan in Western Canada?). In the meantime, trade deadline day passed and we discovered that unless our next 15 opponents are the Calgary Flames, we still have major problems that were unaddressed and expose us to nightly abuse by most NHL teams.

    The theme for the 2012-2013 season has been, “let’s fix the third and fourth lines” because that, obviously, is our biggest problem. Granted, they were not very effective last year, but our biggest problems still revolve around cutting down our opponent’s scoring chances and shots on net, and our positional needs of another top 2 centre, another 1 or 2 top 4 defenceman, and oh yeah, why don’t we do something to address the need to replace “leaky Nicky” Khabibulin and his 87 year old back?

    Instead, management and coaching tried Plans A, B, and C on the bottom six forward lines featuring various combinations of Jones, Hartikainen, Smyth, Hordichuk, Eager, Belanger, Lander, Paajarvi, Horcoff, Smithson, VandeVelde, Arcobello and others to little or no success. In the meantime, our top 2 lines are erratic and inexperienced. When the forwards on your top 2 scoring lines have, combined, less games played under their belts then the other team’s top defensive pairing, that’s not a recipe for a winning team. And don’t get me started on the Peckham-Potter-Whitney-Fistric merry-go-round.

    By the way– has anyone looked ahead to the remaining games? We play 6 games in 9 nights from April 19th (Colorado) to the 27th (Vancouver)… THAT does not look promising as we are likely to have to start Khabibulin for at least 2 to 3 of the games, and I doubt that we can pick up more than 3 or 4 wins, at best, during that stretch.

    We are now at the point where we can’t even win and be in– instead we have to run the table AND count on some other team (or two) going on a massive losing skid in the interim and we can’t count on that because they don’t have our management team in place!

  • 2004Z06

    Is everyone forgetting half our team has played damn near 80 games already this year?

    You cannot use this year as a comparison in any way. Just too many significant differences. Justin Shultz is burned out from too many minutes too soon in the year. RNH’s shoulder clearly isn’t right.

    The veterans had no training camp and as such took 20 games to even get up to game speed. Hell some of them still aren’t at game speed.

    New coach/system

    The compressed schedule has been murder due to decreased practice time and rest days.

    As much as I would like to be able to see if there is legitimate improvement or not, this season cannot be used as a measuring stick in the overall evaluation.

    • vetinari

      HEY, EVERYONE! 2004Z06 says that “…this season can’t be used as a measuring stick in the overall evaluation.” Thank you, 2004Z06 and thank the hockey gods.

      So could everyone please just destroy all references to 2012-13 and we can all get on with our lives because no development, measurement or assessment can be or should be performed on this edition of the Oilers. Free pass for Tambellini and Co.!

    • Chainsawz

      This true but it also true for the other 29 teams in league (with the exception of the new coach). Since the Oilers are being evaluated on their performance against these teams, this season is a valid measuring stick.

  • 2004Z06

    Vetinari….

    What is your justification for mocking my opinion? This is why people stop participating in these types of forums.

    You don’t have to agree with my opinion, but I would appreciate you not mocking it.

    • vetinari

      @2004Z06 — you’re entitled to your opinion, and I was over-the-top in my response because I thought your statement was too black and white and extreme in its position. For my part, I apologize on the sarcasm but the point remains that I think that your position is too extreme and counterproductive. Reflection, adaption and change is what is required to move this team forward, not “get out of jail free” cards.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Always wear your can when here 2004Z06. It’s in your HFD handbook you were given when you joined ON.

      Like in a dressing room, always be aware of the characters around you. Flying off the handle is what we do best here.

  • 2004Z06

    I agree that management has done essentially nothing this year to improve the team going forward.

    The context of JW’s article is “It isn’t a normal season”

    Using that premise, you cannot make the comparison.

    I am in no way suggesting management gets a free pass!

    • Well, the actual context of the article was more along the lines of ‘April in the 2013 season isn’t the same as April in 2011-12’ – in other words, not that we can’t compare the two campaigns, just that we can’t say playing meaningful games in April of a lockout season is equivalent to playing meaningful games in April of a regular season.

      • 2004Z06

        Willis I like the premise of your article and I understand what you’re getting at. Do you think (and I know this is hard to project) a longer season would have helped or hindered the Oilers standings?

          • 2004Z06

            Personally I don`t think it had any real effect on the results for the Oilers, or any other team for that matter.

            They all play the same number of games, all have
            B to B games.etc. If anything travel for the Western Conf. was easier on this shortened season.

            The pro-longed road trip might have cost the Oilers 2 games at most, but that still wont put them in the playoffs.

            I think most teams focus on 5 game segments, so it matters not if you play 48 or 82 games.

            If you are not winning it in 48, not likely to happen in 82.

  • 2004Z06

    Let me pose the question to the group:

    If RNH and Eberle were even in close to the same ppg pace as last year, would we be in?

    I think we would be.

    I continually see a lot of people here bashing the Whitney’s, Potters, Belanger’s, Horcoff’s on the team yet I rarely if ever see anyone holding Eberle or RNH accountable this year.

    If you want to compare this team to last years team, don’t you have to look at everyone’s performance?

    • Spydyr

      I don’t think the problem is with our top line not producing, or getting bad luck in the beginning of the year, which is good news. Nor is it usually with our goal tending. He’s stolen some games, and cost us some, it would be greedy to ask for more considering other top goalies around the entire league are in the exact same boat.

      The problem really seems to be balancing out the rest of the team. It’s the same problems that have persisted for a few years now, and they better get fixed soon. It’s nice to see players like Magnus finally getting some quality ice time and making the most of it. Yet sad to see players that are counted on to disappear for games at a time. Again, I really hope they address defence, and size this off season with meaningful acquisitions instead of just hoping someone else’s trash will suddenly Ryan Jones out of nowhere.

    • GVBlackhawk

      RNH and Eberle have performed ‘reasonably’ well considering the fact that they have played tougher competition this year. They have both been putting up points, just not at the same over-inflated rate that they did last season.

      Saying that RNH and Eberle are the problem is kind of like having a blown engine in your car, but you are worried about a tire being a bit flat.

      The biggest weaknesses should be addressed first. The defense was a huge question mark to start the season and management’s response was to bring in Fistric. He is a 6-7 Dman who has been a healthy scratch on numerous occasions. He provides no offense or puck moving ability. A poor choice imo. Management overlooked the seriousness of Ryan Whitney’s ankle injury and did not act to upgrade on him. Management got stars in their eyes when they saw JSchultz in the AHL and, consequently, threw him to the wolves in the NHL (a rookie defenseman leading the team in TOI for the majority of the season — this is f’kn crazy).

      The other big weakness is a lack of secondary scoring from the 3rd and 4th lines. The 3rd line has had a bit (thanks to Horcoff) but the 4th line has almost zero production. They get out-shot and out-chanced every game, but they still manage a combined 20 minutes per game. This just does not make sense.

      The Oilers still need two top 4 defensemen and three or four bottom 6 players who can play 5v5 and provide a modicum of puck possession and offense.

  • Bonvie

    There are games where they look like the same team from last year. Dubnyk and from time to time, Khabby, saved their bacons after getting outshot by a margin of 2:1. But then there are games like during the 5 game winning streak where you’re like, “Wow!” this team should be in the top 8.

    I think that’s the one difference that we have seen. Actual moments on the ice where we see what this team can be. Just got to see more of that. consistency is a problem for young players so it’s not unexpected, despite our hopes of something more this year.

  • Spydyr

    Do people think the NHL is like the crappy game EA puts out every year? I understand we’re all getting a little sick and tired of losing, but would anyone here trade the team we have now for anyone of the teams we had in the last decade, including the team that went to the cup?

    We have legitimate future / current superstars on our roster. And not just one or two like some teams, but 5. 5 Future super stars.

    The future leader of our team is in the same breath as Toews, Stall, Ovechkin, Getzlf and Kane. Our rookie defenceman is averaging the most minutes on the entire team and is about seven or so points away from the rookie scoring lead.

    Our goalie has a .923 save percentage, and has almost played the most amount of games out of any goalie this year.

    We are five wins away from top of our very competitive division. Can anyone here think of five games a more experienced team would have closed out? It has been forever since we made the playoffs, and even longer since we were considered a cup contender, but doesn’t it seem like we are one, two, or three pieces away from being that team. And if so, well then try and realize those pieces don’t arrive because we package up Omark and Peckham. I’m not asking for patience, just some expectation management.

    • Clay (The Butcher) Butchart

      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?

  • Spydyr

    There are no uncomfortable questions being asked of the team at all because there are no empty seats at Rexall.

    We’ll see what happens this summer (haven’t we been saying that for several years now??), but all of the dithering and putting lipstick on the pig indicates that the team feels zero pressure to ice a better product.

    They are happy to make a big commotion about little win streaks here and there and how cute the young guns are……but what we really need is someone on the team to come out and be like JS Giguere and tell it like it is:

    this team goes nowhere unless they get more horses to back up Hall and The Gang.

    Until then, we will just keep looking forward to the draft and have Braveman Tencer give us all the Twitter Beatdown any time a fan voices any displeasure.

  • Bonvie

    Economics And Horcoff’s contract make it almost impossible to move him and replace him adequately . Next year he has a no trade contract, so that means we are stuck with him . Buyout or pay another team a portion of his pay might work if he agrees to trade with , i believe, 10 other clubs . Those both seem to indicate losing of his effectiveness and economic loss . Lets face it he is still effective for us or someone else at a reduced rate of say half his salary now .

  • 2004Z06

    Spydyr….

    Yes the other teams are also playing a compressed schedule.

    My point was more to the fact that the Oilers had the most NHL players playing elsewhere during the lockout than any other team.

    And certainly more of their top end talent playing than anyone else.

    You are absolutley right this should have been an advantage at the beginning of the year, but it is also a disadvantage at the end.

    They didn’t take advantage early in the season and that may have been partly due to the new coach/system and lack of practice time/pre- season games with which to learn a new coach’s system.

    I am not trying to make excuses for the team, I just don’t think an accurate comparison can be made against last year is all.

  • 2004Z06

    GVBlackhawk…..

    When did I say that Eberle and RNH were the problem?

    My point is that everyone on the team not named Taylor Hall or Devan Dubnyk underperformed this year (rookies exempt). Everyone need to be held equally accountable, not just the “B” rated players.

    I saw every game this year and I would say that on many nights the issue was not necessarily what players were on the ice, but the lack of effort/production of said players.

    We saw games where the Oilers played very well (At Dallas for example). That is what is so frustrating because had this team applied themselves consistently then I think it would be fair to say there was improvement.

    But they didn’t and as such there wasn’t

  • 2004Z06

    I love the comments asking them to get rid of Smithson….

    “no offensive ability”

    These are 4th line guys! If they were offensive juggernaugts, they wouldn’t be 4th liners.

    4th line players are supposed to be high energy/specialists/crash and bang grinders/shut down players.

    If they get a goal here and there, it’s a bonus.

    There are much bigger problems with this team than who is on the 4th line.

  • 2004Z06

    @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.

  • Clay (The Butcher) Butchart

    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

  • Clay (The Butcher) Butchart

    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.

  • 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.