Alright, things aren’t good right now. I think it’s fair to say this start is concerning to everyone, even the really optimistic people. That said, we can afford to acknowledge the issues without scrambling for the ejector seat button. There are reasons to believe the team will push through this skid.
Here are problems that many people anticipated and look today like real issues:
1) The depth at RW is a mess
2) The second pair is a big problem without Sekera
3) Ryan Strome has not instantaneously reversed course on his career
4) The team isn’t as healthy as they were a year ago
All of those things were pointed out from the beginning of the off-season and remain issues today. Fine. Still, the start of the season is worse than expected and we have at least a few reasons to keep the panic at bay.
We are going to be hit with the phrase “small sample size” a lot as Edmonton struggles through four games. And the principle is still valid, even if it’s over-repeated. The reality is that the Oilers have played not even five percent of their season. Both the good and bad things have a long way to go before they are established. Still, we can try to look at a few things and see where the trends are heading.
Let’s start with the good. At even strength, the Oiler shot metrics are doing very well. Don’t you roll your eyes at me, mister! It doesn’t actually feel nice to hear that because when you watch them the club drains your soul of all happiness (during these losses) but the reality is that Edmonton is in control of the puck far more than it is not. Sample size bros are going to point to the blow out that the Oilers were a part of on Saturday and scream “SCORE EFFECTS” and it’s true that team who are being blown out tend to go hog wild on shots and attempts as the other club just plays to run out the clock. However, even in their first three games, they controlled the shot attempts.
During 5v5 play, the Oilers have outshot their opponents 124-95. Those are the actual shots on net. It’s the seventh highest percentage of shots for in the NHL. If we walk back through the unblocked shot attempts, then Edmonton is second in the NHL with 58.4 per cent Fenwick. That’s 189-129 unblocked shot attempts. If we include all shot attempts, blocked or otherwise, the Oilers are first in the NHL with 59.4 per cent Corsi. That’s 246-168 total attempts at even strength.
The classic anti-stats argument is that these attempts could be from anywhere and they shouldn’t all be counted and that’s fine. A few people have developed ways to identify more dangerous scoring opportunities based on things like shot location and type. There are no definitive numbers on those things because no two people will ever agree on what constitutes a “chance” but both the metrics from NaturalStatTrick (Scoring Chances) and from Corsica (Expected Goals) rate the Oilers quite high.
In Scoring Chances, the Oilers have the highest percentage for with 61.3 per cent. That’s 119-75 in scoring chances 5v5. In Expected Goals, the Oilers are second in the NHL with 59.8 xGF percentage. So in the most methodical and (hopefully) least subjective ways of addressing the issue of shot quality which are freely available to the public, the team is performing pretty well. Over time, we should hope that those chances turn into real goals and more games are won than lost.
What’s actually been happening, however, is the exact opposite of that. Edmonton has been losing and by more than a little in their last two outings. They’ve been out-scored almost 2:1 during even strength play and it’s back-breaking watching the other team do it. So what the hell is going on? Well, PDO is a nightmare for the Oil right now.
So PDO is just on-ice shooting percentage added to their on-ice save percentage. This number, via the desire of the universe, pulls very high to a combined 100 per cent. If you’re far over that number, you can expect it to come down over time. If you’re far under that number, you can expect it to come up. You can look at PDO at a player level and at a team level. And by far over or under, I mean higher than 101 and lower than 99 per cent. That’s how tightly bunched teams are in PDO by the end of the year. It’s abnormal to be beyond those markers.
Today, the Oilers are 28th in PDO with 94.6 per cent combined shooting and save percentages at even strength. Cam Talbot will make more saves. The forwards will actually score. The Edmonton Oilers are not the world’s worst club and a complete mirage. At least, that’s not what the information we have says. They are in need of saves. Their forwards need to start burying the puck. But it’s not the time to freak out yet.
You should pump the brakes when you see alarmist stuff like the latest Mark Spector piece which concluded with:
Edmonton is tied for 28th in points, its penalty kill is the worst in the league and the power play ranks 26th.
Chiarelli wanted to wait until nearer the trade deadline to augment this lineup. He may have to act more quickly, if McLellan can’t coach his way out this early season slide.
Or else, the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers might just become the 2015-16 Calgary Flames.
The 2015-2016 Calgary Flames finished 26th after finishing 16th the year before. However, those Flames from 2014-2015 (the “good” year) were smoke and mirrors. They were bottom three in shot attempt metrics and bottom four in scoring chance metrics. The 2015-2016 Flames were bottom 10 as well. The Flames rode the PDO train until the end of the line.
If the logic that proved to be right with the Flames is applied to the Oiler situation then the conclusion we should find ourselves in is that the ship will right itself eventually, not crash into the rocks. Edmonton is nothing like those brutal Flames clubs that fluked their way to success. There are too many positive things happening, right now, to be concerned about the season turning into a total disaster. If that changes, I’ll change my outlook. Until then, let’s hope this funk gets snapped soon.