Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

By the Numbers: Special Teams Are Life

Hello Nation,

The Edmonton Oilers are 7-1. That’s it, that’s the article.

No, the Internet won’t let us write something that short and simple anymore. Through seven games the Oilers are atop of the Western Conference and the top players are littered atop individual statistical categories.

So, how has the team done it, and how can they keep the good times rollin? Let’s look at the numbers.

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Special Teams Are Life

The Oilers did not score on either of their two powerplay chances against the Detroit Red Wings, but they still have the best unit in the league (41.7%). On the PK, Edmonton didn’t allow a goal during their single short-handed situation, and yet, their penalty kill unit fell one spot in the NHL standings to sixth overall (88.9%). Math, man. But the point stands that both special teams units appear to be playing at an elite level. However, the Oilers PK has allowed 71 Fenwick chances against, which is tied for second-most with the Calgary Flames, and ten less than the Vegas Golden Knights. Both of those teams have been short-handed more than the Oilers, so it stands to reason that there more shooting opportunities against will be proportionate to that. This also means that the goalie has to be pretty spectacular on the PK to sustain this success as the shot opportunities continue to be fired towards the Oilers net.

The top five teams who had the highest Fenwick Against while shorthanded last season were the Anaheim Ducks (616), the Colorado Avalanche (591), New York Rangers (565), the Winnipeg Jets (549), and the Detroit Red Wings. All five of those teams finished with a PK in the bottom third of the league (20th, 25th, 27th, 22nd, and 28th, respectively), so some tweaks need to be made to remain on top of the penalty killing world.

Goaltending Controversy?

Mikko Koskinen put in another solid outing last night against the Red Wings after coming off what could be considered a game-stealing 49 save performance against the Philadelphia Flyers the game before. With Mike Smith brought in to either push Koskinen or simply usurp him, is Ken Holland’s experiment working?

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Here’s how both goalies have done at 5v5.

TOI Shots Against Saves Goals Against SV% GAA GSAA HDSV%
Mike Smith 185:24 86 77 9 .895 2.91 -2.28 .789
Mikko Koskinen 200:46 106 100 6 .943 1.79 2.28 .880

It seems that Koskinen is pulling away with the starter’s job early on, with Smith acting as a very serviceable back-up. There was always a belief by some that Koskinen was simply burnt out last season, which led to some of his positional shortcomings (i.e. sketchy glove hand), so if Smith remains as the veteran backup who came come in every fourth game or so to ease the workload for Koskinen and keep him fresh, then the Oilers’ crease is in a good spot. When Koskinen is on top of his game, he really does look superb.

5v5 Still Needs Work

The Oilers have won the 5v5 Corsi For Percentage in only two games so far: a total ownership of the New York Rangers and last night’s game against the Red Wings. This is simply something that needs to improve. The Oilers have scored 18 of their 30 goals at 5v5, with 11 of those coming from Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and James Neal; Draisaitl has the most 5v5 goals with five, with McDavid and Zack Kassian second with three.

The rest of the roster looks alright despite its lack of scoring, working hard down low and doing the dirty work to create scoring chances for the top line. This has been their role so far, and it’s helped the Oilers get off to their fantastic start, but it’s going to have to change. Chiasson as looked good with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Neal, and Tomas Jurco and Josh Archibald are both on the positive side of the CF%, so it feels like more depth scoring is coming. This just needs to happen sooner rather than later, so the Oilers can sustain their early success and not hit a scoring slump.

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Ethan Bear For the Calder?

I think it’s fair to say that Ethan Bear has exceeded expectations stepping in late during the preseason after Joel Persson was hurt first and then Adam Larsson going down long-term. Bear scored his second goal of the season against the Red Wings, which turned out to be the game-winner, and was named first star of the game. So is Ethan Bear playing well enough as a rookie defenseman to earn the FIRST Calder Trophy for the Oilers?

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Since the 2005 lockout, only two defensemen have won the Calder Trophy — Aaron Ekblad for the Florida Panthers in 2014-15, and Tyler Myers for the Buffalo Sabres in 2009-10– and only three in the last twenty years– Barret Jackman for the @St. Louis Blues in 2002-03. What seems to be the main criteria are (1) points and (2) points share, other than Jackman which feels like an award from a million years ago. Bear is currently on pace for almost 31 points in 82 games, which would be eight short of Ekblad’s total, and 17 of Myers’, so the points might have to take a bit of a spike, which could happen as he becomes more comfortable in the NHL.

Bear’s currently second on the team in 5v5 TOI with 142:28. second behind only his defence partner Darnell Nurse, so the opportunity will certainly be there. The issue is that with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the same team, it’ll be incredibly difficult (if not outright impossible) to earn any substantial points share.

The Oilers may have to wait until 2020-21 to finally earn that elusive Rookie of the Year trophy.

Thoughts on the Oilers start so far? Comment below!