Are the Oilers back to the team we saw in 2016/2017? The numbers suggest they very well could be. The Oilers won back-to-back afternoon games in Nashville and Chicago on the weekend and are now 6-3-1, and in the process, they have looked like a really competitive team. After a rough 0-2 start, the Oilers are 6-1-1 in their last eight games where they faced really good teams in Winnipeg, Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago and Nashville twice. The only “easy” opponent was the 30th place New York Rangers.
The schedule doesn’t ease up just yet, with Minnesota in town tonight. They had 100 points last season and are currently tied for seventh in the NHL this season. The Oilers then play Chicago on Thursday and Washington and Tampa Bay next week. The first ten games were difficult, and the Oilers deserve a lot of credit for the position they are in. It looks very similar to their start two years ago.
1. The Oilers were 7-2-1 in October, 2016. They were in first place in the west. They outscored their opponents 31-22, had a 90% PK (27 of 30), but only a 13.8% PP (4 of 27).
Last year they stumbled out of the gate 3-6-1, were outscored 33-22 and were brutal on special teams with a 12.1% PP (4 of 33) and an ugly 70.3% on the PK (26 of 37).
This season the Oilers are 6-3-1 and second in the Pacific division. They have been outscored 30-29, are 25% on the PP (9 of 36) and are 75.8% on the PK (25 of 33).
2. A good start doesn’t guarantee they make the playoffs — just ask the 2018 St. Louis Blues who started the season 10-2-1, but missed the playoffs — but it puts the Oilers in a good frame of mind, whereas a bad start historically can bury a team. It isn’t just the Oilers record that is impressive, but more how they have been very competitive against elite teams like Nashville, Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston and Winnipeg. For long stretches in Nashville on Saturday the Oilers were clearly the better team. They are playing much faster this season, and their defencemen are moving the puck much quicker up the ice.
3. Connor McDavid has 17 points in ten games and is only the fifth Oilers player to have 17 points through ten games.
Wayne Gretzky did it seven times: 17, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28 and had 30 points in 1984/1985.
Jari Kurri had 23 points in 1984/1985, while Mark Messier (1989/1990) and Glenn Anderson (1985/1986) each had 17 points.
4. McDavid is on pace for 139 points. He has had an excellent start to the season despite only scoring one 5×5 point over the past six games, when he scored seven seconds after the Predators goal Saturday afternoon. Over the past six games he has skated 97:46 at 5×5 and has one point. I’d bet pretty much everything I have he won’t have a similar stretch all season. He is currently tied for 38th in 5×5 points with six. He led the NHL with 71 last year. McDavid still scored 17 points despite not doing much over the past six games at 5×5. That is damn impressive.
5. Since the start of the 2016/2017 season McDavid leads the NHL with 12 OT points (4-8-12). Leon Draisaitl is tied for second with 11 (5-6-11) along with Phil Kessel (4-7-11) and Kris Letang (2-9-11). Right now there is no more dangerous duo in OT than McDavid and Draisaitl. They are even more dangerous when they make solid defensive plays like they did v. Chicago that led to their 2-on-1. McDavid made a great defensive play on Saad, and then Draisaitl stole the puck and went the length of the ice.
6. Oscar Klefbom is averaging 26:01/game so far this season, second only to Drew Doughty’s 26:49. Ryan Suter is fourth at 25:51. Klefbom’s TOI/game has risen steadily over the past few seasons. He had 22 minutes in 2015, was 21:53 in 2016 (30 games), then 22:22 in 2017 and 22:51 last year. He is averaging 1:46 more at EV this season compared to last year and is also playing 1:30/game more on the powerplay. He doesn’t have a goal yet this season, despite averaging three shots/game. In his first 255 games he averaged 2.19 shots/game, so he is shooting more, but so far hasn’t been able to bury one.
7. Don’t expect Klefbom to score a lot on the PP. He has four PP goals in 517 career powerplay minutes. He did have four PP goals over the past two seasons (388 minutes), but on this powerplay set up he isn’t going to be a primary shooter, which is wise. He does have six PP shots, which is fourth on the Oilers behind Draisaitl (8), Nugent-Hopkins (9) and McDavid (12), but I don’t see big goal totals coming from Klefbom this season. He is playing huge minutes and he and Adam Larsson have been much more effective defensively, which is the main priority.
8. Speaking of the PP, McDavid already has eight PP points in ten games. He had 20 PP points last season and 27 in 2017. He is on pace for 64 powerplay points. I’d be surprised if he maintains that pace of course. Only one player this century (2000) has scored more than 56 powerplay points. Sidney Crosby had 61 PP points in 2007. Phil Kessel led the NHL with 42 PP points last year and Nicklas Backstrom has scored the most since 2009 when he had 44 in 2014. McDavid definitely could get 40 PP points.
9. Don’t be surprised if you see a 35-40 point gap in scoring between the low scorer of McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of the forwards. They are the Oilers’ big three and if they produce 70+ points each I could see the next forward sitting around 35. Last season in Pittsburgh Crosby was the third highest scoring forward with 89 points, and then Patrick Hornqvist was fourth with 49 points. If you have a few big-time point producers you will see a gap.
10. Expect Ty Rattie to skate with the main group this morning. He isn’t ready to play tonight, but he is getting closer and will likely return to the lineup during the Oilers four game road trip through Detroit, Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida.
11. Zach Parise is off to a great start for the Wild. He has eleven points in eleven games. He scored 24 points in 42 games last season and had 42 and 53 points the previous two years in 69 and 70 games respectively. He has battled nagging injuries the past five seasons, but he is healthy now and has played well early on for the Wild.
12. This is a great video. I’m amazed how so many feel you shouldn’t have fun in sports.
One small town hockey team just wanted to have fun.
But will the NHL world let them?
— SportsChannel8: The Tweets (@SportsChannel8) October 28, 2018