Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

One Way to Win Games

A big part of the reason I love my day-to-day job at TSN 1260 is that it really allows me to get a good read on how the everyday Oilers diehard is feeling. Whether they win or lose, I literally read hundreds of texts from fans the day after an Oilers game.

After last nights win over the Florida Panthers the general response was something along the lines of “They’re lucky that McDavid dragged them to another win” and my general response to that statement is “yeah… and?”. 

It should no longer surprise people that when this team wins, it’s because one of two things happened (or both I suppose):

  1. Connor McDavid creates lots of goals.
  2. Their goaltender plays incredibly well.

That’s it. This teams ability to win is almost 100% controlled by their goaltending and their Captain. Yet it still feels like a section of the fanbase and media are holding out hope that the Oilers will find a way to become this well-balanced team that can win games with through their depth pieces.

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I think it’s time we collectively stop holding out hope that guys like Milan Lucic, Tobias Rieder, Zack Kassian, and Kyle Brodziak will provide this team with any sort of offensive spark. It’s just not going to happen. The Oilers need to be pulled by their big guns every single night if they want a chance to win, and on most nights, that means Connor McDavid doing most of the heavy lifting.

There have been nights when Leon Draisaitl has looked dynamite and Alex Chiasson has been an incredible story as well, but they both benefit from McDavid driving the play. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is doing the best he can to try to drive a second line, but even a player as good as RNH can only do so much with the wingers he’s given.

I looked back through the beginning of the Oilers season and their 21 wins to illustrate my point. It’s a bit of a long table, so bear with me.

OPPONENT SCORE McDavid Points Save Percentage
NYR 2-1 1-1-2 0.958 (ct)
WPG 5-4 2-2-4 0.879 (ct)
BOS 3-2 0-2-2 0.931(ct)
WSH 4-1 1-0-1 0.969(ct)
NSH 5-3 1-1-2 0.889 (mk)
CHI 2-1 1-0-1 0.969 (ct)
CHI 4-0 0-1-1 1.00 (mk)
DET 4-3 0-2-2 0.885 (mk)
MTL 6-2 0-3-3 0.931 (mk)
SJS 4-3 1-2-3 0.880 (mk)
DAL 1-0 0-0-0 1.00 (mk)
LAK 3-2 0-1-1 0.938 (mk)
VGK 2-1 1-0-1 0.969 (mk)
STL 3-2 0-1-1 0.933 (ct)
MIN 7-2 1-3-4 0.939 (ct)
CGY 1-0 1-0-1 1.00 (mk)
COL 6-4 1-1-2 0.907 (mk)
PHI 4-1 2-1-3 0.969 (mk)
ARZ 3-1 2-1-3 0.967 (mk)
ANA 4-0 1-0-1 1.00 (ct)
FLA 4-3 2-1-3 0.900 (ct)

That was long, and if you skimmed through it, let me give you a quick recap of what I found after looking through the Oilers 21 wins this season.

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  • The Oilers have outscored their opponents 77-36 over the course of their 21 wins.
  • Connor McDavid has scored 18 goals and 23 assists over that time for a total of 41 points. That means McDavid has been in on 53.25% of the Oilers goals that they’ve scored in games that they’ve won.
  • His 18 goals scored accounts for 23.38% of their offence in winning games.
  • He recorded 12 multi-point games in that span. He scored two points five times. He scored three points five times. He scored four points twice.
  • The Oilers have only won once this season when McDavid doesn’t register a point. It was a shutout victory over the Dallas Stars.
  • Out of the 21 games that the Oilers have won, their goaltender has posted save percentage of 0.925 or better in 15 of those wins (71.43%). They’ve only won four games this year when their goaltender has had a sub. 0.900 save percentage. They simply don’t have the offensive horses to outscore their opposition on a regular basis.

Looking through these numbers just confirmed what I believed from watching this team for over half a season: the only way they’ll win games and make the playoffs is if their goaltending stays red hot AND Connor McDavid produces offence at an elite level. There’s no other way around it.

Sure, it’s important for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl to provide some support for McDavid. You could also say that the goalie’s numbers are also a reflection of the defence in front of them but at the end of the day, the defence being competent won’t win them games, their goaltending being firmly above average will.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl can be firing on all cylinders, but they won’t win you very many games on their own. In 21 of Edmonton’s wins, Connor McDavid has produced multiple goals. There have been three games this year where I believe their depth pieces were the main reason they won. The 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals, the 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens and the 4-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks. That’s pretty much it and even on those nights, their goalies were strong and McDavid registered a point. 

Almost every other win this year, at least on the surface, has felt like McDavid and the goaltending dragging them to two points.

The reason I dug through these numbers was because I was a little bit surprised at the number of fans and media who seemed disappointed that the Oilers needed three points from Connor McDavid to beat a struggling Florida Panthers team.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Oilers are a team that lives and dies with the play of Connor McDavid and their goaltending. Now, saying that a team needs their best player and goalie to show up on any given night to win a hockey game is true, but I don’t think you could point to any other team in the NHL who relies so heavily on those two aspects of their game.

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I’m not here to tell you that the Oilers are or aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, but if they do happen to go on a magnificent run to the postseason, they will do it because of Connor McDavid and their goal scoring. Get used to it.