The Edmonton Oilers have to do better against the NHL’s best teams

Oilers arena

In Monday’s
mailbag
, there was a question about the Edmonton Oilers playing down to
their opponents, failing to capitalize on opportunities to knock out bad teams.

In fact, that isn’t even a little bit of a problem for
Edmonton. The Oilers have gotten quite efficient at thrashing the dregs of the
NHL. The problem is that Edmonton routinely gets hammered by good teams, even
this season.

As a quick way of determining the Oilers’ performance, I
decided to break the league into three tiers. The Oilers are currently in the
top tier, ranking 10th overall in points/games played this season. Here’s how
the club fared by record and goal differential against each group:

  • The 10 best teams (excluding Edmonton): 3-7-3 record, 44% of
    goals scored
  • The 10 middle teams: 6-5-4 record. 41% of goals scored
  • The 10 worst teams: 17-3-1 record, 62% of goals scored

Edmonton destroys the weaker siblings of the NHL. Unfortunately,
the Oilers are less impressive against the rest of the league. That’s a problem
for at least two different reasons.

The first is that the schedule gets a lot tougher the rest
of the way.

So far this season, Edmonton has played 43 percent of its
games against the 10 worst teams in the NHL. That’s not quite as lopsided as it
sounds—after all, the Oilers winning record has helped push Calgary and Winnipeg
into the bottom-third of the league. Nevertheless, Edmonton plays less than
one-third of its remaining games against those lesser teams.

Instead, they’ll play 40 percent of their remaining games against
top 10 teams, including six against division rivals Anaheim and San Jose.

The second issue is that when the playoffs roll around, the
Oilers won’t have the option of torching bad teams. They’re only going to be
playing top-20 teams, and their 9-12-7 record against those clubs does not
inspire confidence.

Given those problems, two things stand out to me.

The first is with regard to the games coming up. Over the
next two days, Edmonton will play Anaheim and San Jose in their own buildings.
These were already seen as important games because of the battle for the Pacific
division title, but they’re also a chance to get a read on what the Oilers can
do against the most successful teams in the league.

If Edmonton can play convincingly against the Sharks, Ducks
and then the Wild next week, it will do a lot to improve their record against
good teams. I don’t generally go in for so-called “statement games”, but that’s
what these are.

Peter Chiarelli2

The second, related point, is with regard to the trade
deadline. The Oilers are in a tough spot approaching the deadline because it’s
not clear to what degree they should mortgage the future on rental players. The
West is wide open and Edmonton’s record this year is impressive, but at the
same time it wasn’t all that long ago that the Oilers were a pretty bad team
and there are still some significant holes on the roster.

Right now, I’d lean toward a conservative approach,
something that’s been reinforced by digging into the Oilers work against the
best in the league. If Edmonton can knock off their top divisional opponents,
however, the idea of picking up some talent in the hopes of putting together a
playoff run will be a lot more tempting. 

  • NewPants

    Wow. Look at the next two games! Ducks and Sharks. This is a great chance to take the division lead or….. watch it pull away.

    On another note. I’m not a Flames fan but how good would the first round of the playoffs be, Oil against the Flames.

    Go OIL!!!

  • TKB2677

    In general, I find a lot of the Oilers bloggers to be overly negative. Maybe its because the Oilers were so bad for so long that all there was to talk about was negative so that is what they are used too.

    I say this because the Oilers were one of the worst teams in the NHL for what, the last 7 or 8 years? They were second last in the league last year. This season from day one, the Oilers have been fighting for tops in their division and in a playoff spot. Unless something terrible happens (knock on wood) the Oilers will make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. I think if you asked realistic fans at the start of the season, the majority of us fans were hoping that the Oilers would at least be in the hunt for playoffs and maybe squeak in.

    Do I want the Oilers to beat the top teams, hell yes I do. But is it a failure if this season they don’t? I don’t think so. To go from DEAD LAST in the West to even squeaking into the playoffs is one hell of a jump. The Oilers have a decent shot at actually cruising into a playoff spot and maybe even hosting a round. A truly incredible accomplishment.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    Realistically I think I’m hoping the Oilers can win one out of these two games. Both wins would be nice and that would definitely send a statement. But these are two very good teams the boys are up against on this trip.

    I’d love to see them beat the Sharks if only to show that they can.

    Agree with him or not, Willis is right about at least one thing. Oilers have to get more wins vs the Sharks and Ducks. The road to the second round is going to lie through one of these two teams.

  • Dirk Dangler

    If we consider the Oilers record against Western Conference playoff teams based on today’s standings, using actual Pts, it is as follows:

    5 regulation wins – 2 OT wins – 1 SO win – 2 regulation losses – 2 OT losses – 2 SO losses

    The OT wins and losses would still reflect the actual result of the game in the playoffs. The only difference would be that the games ending in a shootout would still be undecided. Without the shootout, this record would be:

    7 wins – 4 losses – 3 undecided/unfinished games

    If we use Pts% based on today’s standings (which takes into consideration games played), it is as follows:

    5 wins – 5 losses – 2 undecided/unfinished games

    I would say that the Oilers record is indeed competitive against their potential Western Conference playoff rivals.

  • Willis, how does this record against these types of teams compare to other top ten teams?

    Are other top ten teams getting their points this way, or is there a group doing well against all level of competition like say Minnesota or Columbus?