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Photo Credit: Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers are a Playoff Team

Most humans fear change. We like routine. We enjoy consistency and even if a new path will bring more enjoyment or fulfillment, many won’t recognize or embrace it right away.

I sense that is the case with many Edmonton Oilers fans. After years of heartache, they are still hesitant to believe their team is legit.

Well, they are. The Edmonton Oilers are a playoff team.

I was one of the few who felt they’d make the playoffs this year, but I thought they’d grab the final wildcard spot. I didn’t expect them to be this good, this year.

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But here we are. The Oilers aren’t a mirage. They are good. The quicker you accept it the more you will enjoy the season.

I understand the trepidation of Oilers fans. You’ve watched them flounder near the bottom of the NHL standing for 12 of the past 13 seasons. In nine of the past ten, they haven’t been close to a playoff team. This year’s team can’t change the past, they can only control the present, and their play tells me without a doubt they are going to be in the postseason.

The most cringe-worthy term I read or hear is “unsustainable.” And the funny part is people mainly use it when a player or a team is on a hot streak. If things are going poorly, well then the player, group or team just sucks and it won’t change. It reminds me of the offside video review. It is one-sided. It only takes away goals. As we saw last night when Riley Sheahan kept the puck onside, but the play was whistled down as offside. The review clearly showed it was onside, but once the play is dead you can’t start it up so a scoring chance is eliminated.

Don’t waste your time telling me the Oilers PK Sv% will come down. You don’t look smart pointing that out. Of course it will come down, but that doesn’t guarantee the PK overall success will plummet.

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Last year the top-three penalty kills were at 85% with Arizona, Tampa Bay and Columbus.
The Lightning’s Sv% on the PK was .899.
Arizona’s was .877.
Columbus was .850.

That is quite a range of Sv%, yet each team killed off the same percentage of powerplays. The team Sv% is one aspect of the penalty kill, so too is shot volume and the quality of shots they allow.

And it isn’t like the Oilers are the only Pacific Division team with a high Sv% on the PK.

Marc Andre Fleury has a .950sv% in 17 starts. Malcolm Subban is at .833% in five starts.
Martin Jones has a .931% in 17 starts. Aaron Dell is at .955% in five starts.
Mike Smith is at .929% in 12 starts. Mikko Koskinen is at .918% in 11 starts.
David Rittich is at. 911% in 18 starts and Cam Talbot is at .897% in six starts.
Darcy Kuemper is at .906% in 14 starts and Antti Raanta sits at .872% in eight starts.
Jacob Markstrom is at .881% in 14 starts and Thatcher Demko is at .891% in eight starts.
Jonathan Quick sits at .803% in 13 starts while Jack Campbell is at .821 in eight starts.

If you expect Edmonton’s Sv% on the PK to regress, then won’t Vegas, San Jose and Calgary do the same? The advantage Edmonton has is both their goalies are playing well on the PK. Outside of San Jose and Vancouver, the other teams have a big gap between their starter and backup in either PK SV% or games played.

Edmonton has consistency in goal right now and the advantage of not having to overplay their starter.

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PRODUCTION…

Edmonton has a major advantage offensively because their top-two scorers are the most productive in the NHL. Leon Draisaitl leads the league with 44 points and Connor McDavid is second with 43. The next closest scorer from the Pacific Division is Elias Petterson with 25 points.

Edmonton’s top-two scorers have 87 points.
Vancouver’s top duo has 46 with Petterson (25) and Brock Boeser (21).
Vegas top two have 45 with William Karlsson (23) and Max Pacioretty (22).
San Jose has 43 points with Logan Couture (22) and Tomas Hertl (21).
Calgary has 38 between Matthew Tkachuk (20) and Johnny Gaudreau (18).
Anaheim has 32 between Jacob Silfverberg (17) and Ryan Getzlaf (15).
Arizona also has 32 from Nick Schmaltz (18) and Conor Garland (14).
Los Angeles is also at 32 with Anze Kopitar (22) and Dustin Brown (10).

If you look deeper, here is how many players each team has with 15+ points.

Edmonton has six.
Vegas and San Jose have five.
Calgary and Vancouver have four.
Anaheim has three.
Arizona and Los Angeles have one.

Edmonton’s top-end offensive talent is better than any team in the Pacific division — by a large margin. Is their depth scoring a concern? Sure, but the Oilers aren’t Cup contenders so they will have some holes. But the depth scoring concerns are not more important than the top-end advantage Edmonton has within their division.

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Here is how Edmonton’s scoring compares within the division, by goals (points are in parenthesis)

Team       Top-5 forwards       Rest of Fwds         Defence
EDM               57 (134)               11 (26)                 7 (47)
VEG                42 (92)                 22 (52)                 6 (33)
SJ                   40 (77)                 12 (51)                 11 (51)
VAN               38 (91)                 21 (52)                  9 (35)
ANA              36 (69)                  15 (49)                 8 (36)
CGY               34 (81)                  15 (35)                11 (42)
ARI                32 (61)                  19 (55)                 10 (36)
LA                 25 (59)                   16 (44)                 12 (38)

The Oilers forwards have the most goals in the division. Of course, you’d like to see more production from sixth-14th forward, but their top-end talent is so much better than the rest of the division. And considering your top players play the most minutes, I’d say that is a distinct advantage.

The Oilers lead the division with 75 goals (3.26 goals/game) and they are second in the GAA/game at 2.70.

HEALTH…

Nov 2, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and center Leon Draisaitl (29) look on at the face-off circle against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at PPG PAINTS Arena. The Oilers won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Edmonton is in trouble if McDavid or Draisaitl get injured.” Again, not great insight. But no one can predict injuries. Ideally, you would want your team to be deep enough to handle a big loss, but every GM in the league will tell you they won’t know how good their team is without a top player, until that player gets hurt. You can speculate and you can build a roster deep enough that you think you will be able to overcome a big injury. But you never know until it happens.

When Adam Larsson broke his fibula on opening night, many people felt the Oilers were doomed defensively. It didn’t happen. Ethan Bear shocked everyone and has been fantastic playing 21 minutes a game. The rest of the blueline has been very consistent as well and the Oilers, as a team, are more aware defensively. The Oilers managed to overcome Larsson’s injury as he is set to return on this road trip. He wants to play tomorrow in Los Angeles. Other injuries on the blueline in the Pacific Division:

Arizona has been without Niklas Hjalmarsson for 18 games.
TJ Brodie is now on the IR, and has missed three games this season for the Flames after a scary incident in practice. They also lost Jusso Valimaki in the summer when he tore his Achilles.
Josh Manson has been out for eleven games and Hampus Lindholm has missed seven games for Anaheim. Both are still on the IR.
Nate Schmidt has missed 11 games for Vegas and is still out.
Radim Simek missed the first 15 games, but he is back in the lineup and playing well for San Jose.
Vancouver has used the same six D-men in every game, except for one game Quinn Hughes missed.
Los Angeles top-five have played every game and they rotate the 6th defender.

Forward injuries thus far:

Vegas was without Alex Tuch for 17 games.
Micheal Ferland has missed 10 games for Vancouver and Brandon Sutter has missed the past three.
Ryan Kesler won’t play this season for Anaheim.
Evander Kane was suspended for three games, while Patrick Marleau missed the first four after signing late.
Arizona has been very healthy. Nine forwards have played all 22 games and 11 have played 21.
Calgary and Los Angeles haven’t had any forward out for a significant period of time.

The Oilers injuries to Joakim Nygard (12 games) and Josh Archibald (eight games) and Alex Chiasson (four) aren’t big name injuries.

The Ducks losing Manson and Lindholm has been the most damaging within the division, and we’ve seen them flounder because of it, going 3-5-2 in their last ten games.

The Oilers injuries to this point are on par, or worse, than the rest of the division, but they are still in first place.

Injuries are unpredictable, and can skew any projection or prediction, but when I look at teams I evaluate their healthy roster. And when healthy, the Oilers roster makes a playoff team.

At least three teams have to pass them for them to be in a battle for a wildcard spot. Which three?

Vancouver is 2-5-3 in their last ten games. San Jose has to make up ten points. Calgary is eight behind, are struggling and the Oilers have a game in hand. The Ducks are struggling. Los Angeles isn’t in the race.

I don’t know where Edmonton will finish in the Pacific Division, but it will be in the top three, and they will make the playoffs.

Change is good Oilers fans. Embrace that you finally have a playoff calibre team again. It’s long overdue.

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