One big test passed, another one coming

When the sun rose on October 13th, the pressure was on within the Oilers organization. The team was off to an 0-2 start and were in New York to play the Rangers. Daryl Katz had flown into New York to attend the game and the sense around the hockey world was that if the Oilers didn’t start winning in a hurry, someone was going to lose their job.

A win 2-1 win over the Rangers didn’t really settle the nerves around Oilersnation. The team was staring at an incredibly tough stretch of their schedule and many fans (and media members) wondered if Head Coach Todd McLellan would survive the month (he was the betting odds favourite to be the first coach fired this season).

Oh boy, did this Oilers team ever flip the script.

Including that win at Madison Square Garden, Edmonton is 6-1-1 and they’re beating some damn good hockey teams in the process… but still there’s a section of the fanbase that’s a little weary, and I can kind of see why.

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While the Oilers supporting cast is starting to play better, and chip in with some offence, they still aren’t a very good team with Connor McDavid off the ice.

At even strength, they only have five forwards with a CF% over 50% (Strome, Rattie, Puljujarvi, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yamamoto). Two forwards (Draisaitl and Chaisson) are under 40%, which is straight up awful.

They do have seven forwards with an even-strength goal for percentage better than 50% (Rattie, Chiasson, Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid, Strome, Draisaitl, and Rieder) but they also have four forwards who are under 30% (Puljujarvi, Khaira, Brodziak, and Lucic) and as that isn’t ideal.

During the wins over Washington, Nashville, and Chicago, I’ve noticed the team playing much better when Connor McDavid isn’t on the ice, and that is a very encouraging sign.

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Leon Draisaitl appears to be finding his legs after looking very bad in the first few games of the season. He still isn’t at the level that the team would like him to be at, but he’s been taking positive strides nonetheless.

Ryan Strome, Milan Lucic, and Drake Caggiula have played 25 minutes together during this three-game winning streak and despite only being on the ice for one goal, they’ve gotten 57% of the scoring chances while they’ve been on the ice. I’ve been impressed with their ability to create offence and generate a cycle.

The fourth line of Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira, and Kyle Brodziak don’t need to be worldbeaters offensively, but if they can generate a little offence and not get dominated in their own zone, it will help the Oilers win hockey games.

Connor McDavid will continue to produce, I have no doubt about that, but if the Oilers want to keep winning games at this pace, they’ll need the groups I just mentioned to keep taking strides forward.

Oct 16, 2018; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) skates past Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) in the third period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The first month of the season was viewed as a big test for the Oilers and they passed it but in today’s NHL, the second you feel safe, you get in trouble.

The month of November will be equally as difficult and even more meaningful when you consider how many divisional games they have to play.

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During the first 15 days of the month, the Oilers will play seven games against seven different opponents. While only three of their opponents made the playoffs last year, those teams have a combined record of 35-24-15. Only two teams, Detroit and Florida, have a losing record so far this season. Add on the fact that four of those games are on the road, and you have another very tough stretch of hockey for Edmonton.

The last 15 days of the month feature seven games, with six of them being against Pacific Division opponents. The Pacific doesn’t look particularly strong this season and in previous seasons, the Oilers have played pretty well within their own division over the past few years, so there are reasons to be confident in the team heading into this stretch.

During this coming month, they also play a pair of back-to-backs. The first set comes on November 5th-6th as they’re on the road to take on the Capitals and Lightning, two offensive powerhouses, then on the 17th-18th they’re home to the Flames and Golden Knights, two teams they’ll be fighting with until the end of the season for a playoff spot.

That means there will be two nights this year where the Oilers will have to throw Mikko Koskinen. The first will be against an offensive juggernaut and the second will be for a very important divisional game. Koskinen played like a $2.5 million backup this weekend against Nashville and he’ll need to hold that level of play.

In today’s NHL, any sort of extended slump can absolutely kill your playoff chances, especially if you start dropping points against teams in your own division.

The Oilers will need even more from their bottom six than their currently getting, they’ll need Leon Draisaitl to kick things into another gear, and they’ll need to keep getting above average goaltending from Cam Talbot, which they’ve gotten recently.

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It’s only November, the stakes are going to be incredibly high as the Oilers move into the second month of the regular season. They’re playing great right now, but the second you start feeling comfortable is the second you get into trouble.

  • JudgeDredd

    i’m very very curious where the Oilers are going to throw Koskinen, and who’s doing the throwing. He’s a big man so it might take a couple of people to throw him…depending on how far that is

  • BobbyCanuck

    Tomorrow against Minny is a huge game, all for naught beating the best and losing to the middle of the pack, not that Minny is a bad team, but the Oilers seem to lose to teams they should beat, and beat the teams they should lose to.

    Damn Minny, put you to sleep and than score goals

  • cherry picker

    Good article. Keep on the gas pedal forsure. Banking points early in the year is important. Just be more consistent.
    I agree we should be good in our own division but every season is a different season and results in today’s NHL can change big time year to year

  • Chris Prongers Rake

    Another article about how the Oilers aren’t as good with out #97 on the ice and the other lines have to step up?!…At least you had a fresh take!

  • JayTee

    Remember when the schedule came out and y’all were like “We have the easiest schedule in the league!” ? and now it’s “We have the toughest schedule in the league!” ? MAKE UP YO DAMN MINDS! XD

    • crabman

      the easy schedule talk was the schedule on the whole. The Oilers have a large amount of games against teams on the back end of double headers or 3 games in 4 nights. Statistically those are much more winnable games for the rested team. That’s what those articles were saying.

  • Alberta Ice

    If the Oilers go to overtime, it should be an automatic win. With McDavid out there prowling 3 on 3, the Oilers have the most lethal weapon in the NHL. Crazy that only a highlight reel play from Crosby is the only OT loss suffered by the Oilers so far this year. I rest my case.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The Oilers have been fairly good as of late, we took on some teams with some good records and lots of skill and hung with them and beat some of them. If the Oilers can keep building on the success they have had on the ice and refine the weak points , there is no reason they cant give other teams a run for there money.

    We all saw the schedule and I dont think there are many people that didn’t look at it and go “uh-oh” that doesnt look good, but it was great to see the team buckled down put there nose to teh grindstone and played some pretty solid hockey, guys that didnt look too hot at the start of the season have picked up their game, others have been very very solid. I like what we are seeing, and if the Oilers can keep playing for a full 60 minutes , there is no reason they cant keep in the battle for 2 points. They have taken points where a lot of folks didnt think they would come away with a point at all.

    Minnesota will be a good test too, the Oilers have done well so far against teams were a lot of us thought they might not fare so well, if they can keep it going I dont see why they cant give Minnesota a run for their money. It should be a good game to watch

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The Draisaitl Reider Chaisson line seems to have chemistry, Reider and Chaisson can skate and I think it is driving Draisaitl to keep moving, Draisaitl can skate for a big guy, and when his feet are going, he can be tough to stop with his size.

    I hope TM leaves them be for a while, it will give opposing teams something else to worry about other than the 1st line. Hell even the 3rd line has been decent as of late, the Oilers were in desperate need to have more lines rolling, if they can keep lines going like this it only helps make the Oilers that much more of challenge to play against

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Okay so we know that this team can hang with AND BEAT some of the best in the league. Now it’s time to see how they deal with “weaker” competition. I DO NOT want to see happen to the Oilers, what is currently happening to Toronto. Keep up the smart play, and good things will happen. Again, as long as there is an effort, I don’t care if they win or lose

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      The leafs were dropping games though with Matthews in the line up. Christ that is all we were hearing about after they won the first game was are the leafs cup contenders, how do teams contain the leafs huge fire power….who is the best on xbox matthews or marner……honestly you’d almost think there were no other teams in canada…lol

  • palmnickl

    Thank you for the article. I would have been interested in McDavids CF% if you had it available? I understand the need to push such statistics but in this case it may be apparent that CF% does show zone time but not production which IMO makes it a compromised statistic. Draisaitl, who you call out in your post, has a 40% score yet is over a point per game. Lucic, on the other hand fails all corsi metrics and to some the eye test. The immediate reaction according to MoneyBall is to Jetison both players. Florida learned this lesson.