Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Is this different than last season?

Last season, the Edmonton Oilers had a record of 35-38-9 and missed the playoffs by eleven points. That happened despite the fact that they started the year by going 6-3-1 in their first ten games. Throughout the year they were plagued by an inability to get goals from their bottom six, inconsistent goaltending, a poor penalty kill, and a banged-up blueline. 

This year, they’re off to a red-hot start and fans are dreaming about the potential of the team making the playoffs for just the second time in over a decade. It’s a great feeling to watch this team rack up wins early in the season but I still feel a little uneasy when looking at this group and the way they’re winning games. I keep going back to one thought: how is this any different than last season?

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Well, the obvious answer is that they’re winning more. Through seven games last season, they were just 3-3-1. Even if the next three games go terribly, they’ll be at least on par with what they did last season. But there’s more to this conversation than just their record. Racking up points in the first month of the season is great and shouldn’t be taken for granted, but the Oilers need to prove that this is sustainable or else this current run means nothing (just ask the 2018/19 Buffalo Sabres).

The first question is: how are they winning games?

Well, they’re getting some insane production from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That’s nothing new but it has been absolutely remarkable to watch these two play at the level they’re currently at. 

Is McDavid going to play at a near 200 point pace for the remainder of the season? No. He might be in the 130-140 range, but, at some point, he will cool off just a little bit. The same can be said for Draisaitl. He’s on pace for 70 goals this season. That simply won’t happen.

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I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that the Oilers two big guns will cool off at some point and when they do, they’ll need their depth to step up and start scoring. They haven’t this season and it’s been very disappointing.

Over the summer, GM Ken Holland added players like Markus Granlund, Josh Archibald, Joakim Nygard, and Tomas Jurco to help spark some offensive production. He resigned Alex Chiasson hoping that he could deliver something close to what he did in 2018/19 and brought back Jujhar Khaira hoping with the expectation that he would bounce back from a 2018/19 season that was riddled with injuries and inconsistencies.

None of those bets have worked out from a scoring perspective. Through seven games, the Oilers bottom six has not produced a single goal at 5v5. Not just that, they aren’t producing many chances either.

2019/20 at 5v5 Individual Shots For Individual Scoring Chances For On Ice Scoring Chances For On Ice Scoring Chances Against On Ice Goals Against
Joakim Nygard 8 5 12 17 3
Jujhar Khaira 6 5 21 40 4
Alex Chiasson** 4 3 11 15 1
Riley Sheahan 4 1 14 24 3
Josh Archibald 5 4 11 22 3
Markus Granlund 5 4 15 23 3
Gaetan Haas 1 2 7 8 2
Tomas Jurco** 3 5 24 24 1
Patrick Russell 4 4 10 17 2

** has played minutes in top six

*** numbers via naturalstattrick.com

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The bottom six is not driving play and they’re not out-chancing the opposition but they’re not losing games for the Oilers. They aren’t an absolute liability right now, they just aren’t a strength. 

That’s fine for now considering how the top six has produced, but there will come a time where the Oilers need the players listed above to start producing some goals. It’s simple as that.

One area where a handful of those players have really helped is on the penalty kill. Right now, the Oilers have the fifth-best penalty kill percentage in the NHL at 88.5%. They’ve killed off 23 penalties so far this season. Only the Vegas Golden Knights (24), Dallas Stars (25), and Carolina Hurricanes (28) have killed off more. 

Last year, they lost games because their penalty kill was atrocious. That’s not the case this year so while I’m quick to bash the bottom six players for not producing offence, I need to give both them and Dave Tippett’s coaching staff credit for the way they’ve been killing penalties this season.

Another big positive for the Oilers has been their powerplay. Right now, they have the best powerplay percentage in the NHL at 45.5%. Last season, the best PP% was 28.2% and it belonged to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In fact, that number from the Lightning was the best PP% that the NHL has seen in the last five seasons.

It’s safe to say that the Oilers powerplay will cool off at one point. They are shooting at 27% when on the man-advantage. That’s crazy high. Even that historic Tampa Bay powerplay shot at just under 22%. 

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Considering the talent that the Oilers have, they could very well have the most productive powerplay in the league this season. It just won’t run at 45.5% for the rest of the year.f

Things will cool off. Their big guns will eventually cool off at even-strength and their powerplay will not run at close to 50% all season. That doesn’t mean the Oilers will start to go on long losing streaks. They can make the playoffs this season and I honestly believe that they’re good enough to do it, they just need to see more from their bottom-six players.

It’s been great to see the Oilers rattle off six wins in their first seven games but right now, it feels like apart from their special teams, they’re winning games the same way that they would win games last season. That can change if their depth players start scoring goals and if that starts to happen, I don’t see a scenario where the Oilers don’t make the playoffs.