It is true. To quote the fiery Dennis Green, “The Oilers are who we thought they were.”
I expected the Oilers to be an 82-88 point team this year, and after a slow start they have climbed back to “500”. Now the challenge for them will be to hover around that mark or maybe even a bit above.
I realize that finishing with 82 points won’t get them to the playoffs, but through the first nine games I think it is safe to say this team is much better than last season. They still have a ways to go to become a legitimate playoff contender, but at least they are showing signs they are getting closer to being a playoff team.
- Their defence is much better. Last night in the third period of a close game Justin Schultz made two very good defensive plays. He boxed out Plekanec in front of the net, not allowing him to get to a rebound, and later in the same shift he won a battle beside the net, made the simple play and moved the puck to Perron on the wing.
- It was two small, simple plays, but those are the types of plays you need to make to win games. Schultz is not going to be a stalwart defensive D-man, but if he can make those plays in the third period of a tight game, it shows he is finally understanding the importance of the small, simple play.
- They have cut down their 5-star giveaways. There will always be giveaways in a game, but during this winning streak the Oilers have avoided the glaring ones. It is hard to win in the NHL, and it becomes much more difficult when you give games away. If they can avoid the major errors they will be much more competitive.
- Nail Yakupov continues to improve all over the ice. I think people need to realize he isn’t going to be as dominant as Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That doesn’t mean he won’t be an effective player, but not all #1 overall picks are created equally. He needs to play with the same jump in his step that he had for the first 30 minutes last night. I still believe Yakupov plays better when he’s emotionally and physically involved in the game. He had an edge, and he plays better when he uses it. Last night’s hit on Emelin energized the crowd and Yakupov.
- After a rough first few games, Ben Scrivens has settled in and given the Oilers a chance to win every game. His rebound control on low shots last night was excellent. After the game I asked him if he believes in the analogy of “seeing the puck better.” I realized after why he is called The Professor. He asked me if I wanted the long or short version and I said the long one. We sat down in his stall and he proceeded to explain how our vision works. We looked directly across the room to a hockey bag in Brad Hunt’s stall (about 40 feet away). He asked what stood out. “The Oilers logo,” I said. “Our eyes focus best on a small image about three to four inches wide, and the rest becomes the periphery. The logo is the puck for me when I’m on the ice, and when you are seeing it better you focus more on it and less on the stuff outside of it. People say the puck looks bigger, but really it is just our focus that is better, at least it is that way for me,” finished Scrivens.
- Benoit Pouliot had two points and scored his first goal. “As a line, I thought it was our best game of the year. We were communicating on the ice much better. We are starting to understand each other’s tendencies,” he said.
- The Oilers top line didn’t do much statistically, and because they didn’t dominate the game some felt they had a bad night. They weren’t great, but they weren’t awful, and when your top line is just average and you win the game that means your depth is starting to come through. The Oilers can’t win solely on the back of their top line.
- Mark Fayne continues to be excellent defensively. Martin Marincin, Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry can learn a lot from him on how to play the right way in your own zone. I also like seeing his icetime above 18 minutes.
- Last night, the icetime of the defence was split up evenly. Justin Schultz played the most at 19:25, but he and Brad Hunt played the least at EV (13:38 and 13:34 respectively). Craig Ramsay is putting players in the best situation to succeed.
- I don’t understand the constant demand from some who want Jordan Eberle removed from the first line. He is the 5th most productive RW in all of hockey the past four seasons, yet if he has an off-game people demand he get demoted? Why? Yakupov will not produce the same as Eberle has if he gets promoted. He doesn’t see the game or think the game like Eberle. It is almost as though some feel Eberle is the one to blame for Yakupov not being a star. I believe your venom is pointed at the wrong person. Eberle is a very productive complementary player. Very few will produce like him.
- Marc Arcobello continues to quietly play well. I thought he had a very strong game last night. He is tied with RNH for third on the Oilers in EV points with four while Eberle has five and Hall has seven. He is on pace for 36 EV points, which would be solid production. Last season, Eberle and Perron were tied for 2nd on the Oilers in EV points with 37.
- The Oilers four regular centres are a combined 50.7% in the faceoff dot. As a team they are 50.1% (the rest of the team is 13-20, 39.3%) and the Oilers sit in 16th spot in faceoff efficiency. That is a major improvement. Gordon is 55.2% (95-77), Arcobello is 50.4 (68-67), Draisaitl is 47.9% (46-50) while RNH is 47.4% (64-71). It is another step in the right direction for the team.
- This doesn’t mean everything is rosy and perfect in Oilersnation, far from it, but the team is improved, which is something we haven’t seen in over five years. At least the Oilers look like a team that can be competitive every night, and that is something we haven’t seen in six years.
- The Oilers face Nashville tomorrow and Vancouver on Saturday. We’ve seen how competitive they are against the east, 4-0, but it is time to witness if they can compete with the teams they need to beat in order to become a playoff team.
Recently by Jason Gregor: