So, the Edmonton Oilers are off to a fantastic start. 5-1-0 after six games, something that they haven’t done since the glory days of the 80s. Though their winning streak to start the season was snapped last night against the then-winless Chicago Blackhawks, the team played well enough that they could’ve pulled out their sixth straight win and swept the road trip. But, they ran into a hot goaltender in Corey Crawford, and a team hungry for their first win of the season.
So, as the team heads home to play the Philadephia Flyers on Wednesday and the Detroit Red Wings on Friday for a quick two-game home stint, here’s what we know so far according to the numbers:
The Oilers have not scored first on the road… yet.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 12, 2019
Their winning streak obviously ended last night, and the Blackhawks scored first in that defeat, so in each of their first four road games, the Oilers have allowed the first goal of the game. This has not necessarily been due to poor play, or anything egregious, and they’ve shown a fortitude to battle back every time. But it is a trend that needs to be corrected if the Oilers want to sustain success and make it back to the postseason.
The Top Players Have Been Very Good.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) October 15, 2019
Yes, the sky is, in fact, blue, the earth is round, and there aren’t enough Taco Bells left in the city. But, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl haven’t missed a beat. Both are tied atop league scoring with identical totals– 4 goals, 8 assists- 12pts– with Draisaitl’s 25 shots-on-goal edging Connor’s 17. But it’s James Neal’s 8 goals that have been a difference-maker, immediately making the offseason trade to acquire him a win. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t quite have the results you’d want yet, but he’s been snake-bitten a bit so far and hopefully finds the back of the net more moving forward.
But back to those shots. Draisaitl is averaging just over 4 shots/game, which, should that trend continue, would shatter his output from last season. Draisaitl had 223 SOG last season, and his current rate has him hitting 341 in 82 games. I had written about it before, but though his shooting percentage was relatively high (21.6%) last season, his shot output was the lowest of any 50 goal-scorer since the lockout. So, if he continues shooting with even a slightly reduced volume, he’ll no doubt end up leading this team (and quite possibly the league) in goals again.
5v5 Scoring Has To Improve.
As we talk about shots (well, as I write about them and you read about them) the team’s shot totals have to be discussed. The Shots Against are in a good place, as the Oilers’ under Dave Tippett’s system have so-far allowed the fifth-fewest shots in the league per game (29.8). The issue right now is Shots For. The Oilers rank dead last in shots per game (26.2) and that has surely had a negative effect on 5v5 scoring. The team’s Corsi For% currently sits at 47.02%, which is 24th in the league; their Expected Goals For is 49.62% (17th), and High Danger CF% is 51.25% (15th). The HDCF% is encouraging, but the overall possession numbers are concerning. In fact, they’re a little worse than they seem. They absolutely dominated the New York Rangers in terms of possession (to the tune of a 69.86 CF%), but have lost the possession battle in every other game (kinda explains why they’ve been scored on first in every game too). It’s not ideal, but there are some players on the verge of having a scoring outburst, with eight on the positive side of the xGF% (Expected Goals For%): Zack Kassian 63.29%, Draisaitl 57.06%, Oscar Klefbom 54.44%, McDavid 52.85%, Ethan Bear 52.76%, Nuge 52.73%, Joel Persson 51.89%, and Gaetan Haas 51.09%. So I’d say expect a goal from Kassian, a defenseman, and Nuge against the Flyers.
Special Teams Are Life.
#LetsGoOilers James Neal is the first player to score 6 power play goals in his team's first 6 games since Dino Ciccarelli in 1986-87
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) October 15, 2019
Though the 5v5 scoring has been troublesome, the special teams have kept the team afloat. The powerplay is currently clicking at 40.0%, which is T-2nd with the Philadelphia Flyers, with both teams trailing the Sabres’ 42.9%. The penalty kill has been superb, and it too is 2nd in the league, running at a gloriously efficient 95.0%, trailing only Vegas’ 95.5%. These two units running efficiently has allowed the Oilers to survive despite the struggles at 5v5; it’s a disastrous situation when the special teams and 5v5 scoring are even just average or below it. Luckily, the Oilers have been able to lean on powerplay scoring and the penalty kill mitigating goals-against so far while they correct the 5v5 issues. It’s foolish to think that both these units remain this dominate over the breadth of the entire season, but as long as they can remain in the top ten, and then 5v5 scoring improves behind them, the Oilers will be in a good place.
Goal-Differential Is Trending The Right Way.
The Oilers currently have the sixth-best goal differential.
|Vegas Golden Knights||24||14||+10|
Each team has played six games, except the Avalanche, who have played five. Two things that the Oilers needed to improve this season under Tippett that would put them on the path to playoff glory were their goal-differential and the penalty kill. So far, they’ve done just that, so the team seems to be buying into whatever it is the coaching staff has asked of them and it’s led to an improvement in these key areas.