The one thing I’ve been hearing and reading about this team
over and over lately has been how different the club feels under Todd Nelson.
Bob Stauffer and others who get to follow the club more closely than I get to
keep saying it: The team is looser, having more fun.
I don’t doubt for a second that’s true. I don’t. They look
like they’re having fun again. My question is whether the team is getting
better results because they’re more relaxed or if the team is more relaxed
because they’re getting results.
The difference between the two is actually very important
because it speaks to how much influence the head coach has had on the team
since he took over. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg question but considering
Nelson is the interim head coach and may very well earn the fulltime head
coaching duties then I think it’s something the team should consider.
The Oilers under Nelson are performing worse from a
possession standpoint than they did under Eakins. Under Nelson the team has CF
of 45.3% (25th Overall during that time) and a FF of 43.5% (28th).
Under Eakins the Oilers had a CF of 50.9% (14th) and a FF of 49.6%
(20th). Put another way, they are doing worse under Nelson at spending time in the
offensive zone and in their ratio of unblocked shots. Over a long period of time those things tend to catch up with teams. It’s one of the reasons the Sabres shot ahead of the Oilers in the standings for a short time but have been falling back down.
Now, in Nelson’s 10 games the Oilers have only played one game
against a team that will definitely finish out of the playoffs (Colorado). Of
the nine other games there were Calgary and the Kings (who are duking it out for
the Wild Card spot in the West), the Panthers (who are battling with games in
hand for the Wild Card spot in the East), and then a murderers row of top
teams. There haven’t been many “easy” games in there. That should absolutely be taken into consideration.
With only 10 games under his belt as the coach it’s too
early to call Nelson out based on those numbers but it’s something to think
about. I recognize that not everybody has bought into the fancy stats but there
is one set of stats that everybody should be comfortable with. The story of
this team, I think, lies in save percentage.
The Coach has very little control over this. There is no
magic system that Nelson is using or that Eakins wasn’t that really affects the
goalie’s ability to make a save. The best they can do is cut down on shots
against or scoring chances against but we’ve already established that isn’t happening
with Edmonton (so far).
Here are the 5v5 Save Percentage numbers under Eakins this
year, under the Nelson/MacT combo, and under Nelson solo:
2014-2015 Oilers Eakins: On Ice sv% 5v5 of .902 (29th over
2014-2015 Oilers Nelson/MacT: On Ice sv% 5v5 of .868 (30th
2014-2015 Oilers Nelson Solo: On Ice sv% 5v5 of .918 (13th
The Oilers started winning and picking up points, not when
they started playing better as a group, but rather when their goaltenders
started delivering just slightly above average performances. It’s been the
story of the season. Dallas Eakins couldn’t buy a save from Ben Scrivens of
Viktor Fasth. MacTavish took the helm for 5 games with Nelson as his squire and
the goalies did even worse.
Under Nelson the team is winning and loose and the mood is
different. No doubt about it.
I only question how much of that is on Nelson and how much
of that is on Scrivens and Fasth. Nelson has had the benefit of getting the saves where his predecessor did not. There are going to be a lot more happy smiling faces in the dressing room because losing is terrible and the the Oilers were losing because of how their goaltenders were playing.
I hope Nelson makes the most of this opportunity as the Interim, but I am hesitant to pin the turnaround in mood on him when his tenure has coincided with the first stretch all year where the team can reasonably rely on its goaltending.