The way I see it, the best thing about the Edmonton Oilers wrapping up the October portion of their schedule with a better record, 6-4-1, than anybody expected is that there’s still plenty of room for improvement in the 71 games that remain.
I didn’t see the Oilers getting 13 points, and neither did most of you, against the competition they faced in the first 11 games, but here they are on the plus side of .500 despite having their special teams go sideways and souring the end of this stretch in a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild Tuesday. If the Oilers get 13 points from every 11 games they play this season, they’re in the playoffs, and that’s the end-game, no?
So far, there’s been a lot to like.
- Defending Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid is off to easily the best start of his career with 9-9-18 in 11 games and he has provided a handful of highlight-reel moments already, including that warp-speed waltz around Ryan Suter Tuesday. He’s tied for third in NHL scoring.
- Leon Draisaitl is starting to roll with 7-6-13, in part because of a gaudy shooting percentage (29.2). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also has 13 points (3-10-13) despite a shooting percentage (7.9) that’s bound to improve.
- Oscar Klefbom is healthy and is averaging 26:07 a game, second to Drew Doughty. Milan Lucic (1-3-4) is showing a level of engagement we didn’t often see last season. Alex Chiasson has four goals in six games. A nice find so far.
- Like Chiasson, Tobias Rieder has performed well. He can move up and down the line-up, kill penalties and he’s chipped in with 0-5-5.
- Edmonton’s been very good 5×5 to this point.
WORK TO DO
This surprising start has come in spite of some deficiencies and ongoing issues that GM Peter Chiarelli and coach Todd McLellan need to sort through, and the sooner the better.
- After McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and Chiasson, there’s a big drop-off in production from forwards. Rieder, Ryan Strome and Kyle Brodziak don’t have a goal. Despite playing well at times and getting first-line ice time, rookie Kailer Yamamoto has just one goal.
- While numbers swing greatly in a short 11-game stretch, special teams still have some work to do. After a solid start, the power play went 0-for-5 against Minnesota, is 1-for-14 in the last three games and has dropped to 21.9 per cent (14th).
- The PK is probably a greater concern right now than the power play is. It gave up three goals on three chances against the Wild, has allowed six goals on 14 attempts over the last three games and sits 28th at 69.4 per cent.
- Cam Talbot has been hit-and-miss in 10 appearances. He’s been very good at times, but wasn’t sharp against Minnesota, allowing four goals on 28 shots. He’s sitting with a .904 save-percentage now.
- McLellan has to get his line-up sorted, specifically as it relates to Jesse Puljujarvi, who was scratched for the fourth straight game against Minnesota. Either get Puljujarvi into the line-up with reasonable minutes on an ongoing basis here or send him to Bakersfield in the AHL. Make a decision.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Warts and all, the Oilers will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday in a far better position after 11 games than most of us thought they’d be in when the season started. I see that room for improvement as a positive. I’d much rather the Oilers be in the position they’re in now than searching for a silver lining with six points in the standings.
That’s not to say McLellan and Chiarelli can pay lip service to the flaws and the Puljujarvi saga, but if that’s what you’re fixated on as a fan rather than enjoying the moment, I wonder where you’re coming from. If you’re not happy when the team is winning and not happy when the team is losing, when are you happy? I think that’s a fair question.