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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Depth Scoring Isn’t Issue In Edmonton

Which one do you read or hear about more?

The Oilers lack depth scoring.

Edmonton relies on two players too much.

I suspect you’ve heard or read those comments or some similar facsimiles often in recent years. It was valid in 2019 and 2020 when the OIlers were 23rd and 20th in 5×5 goals for, but it is not accurate this season.

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The Oilers are seventh in the NHL in goals for at 5×5 with 87. Here are the six teams ahead of them: Washington (104), Colorado (99), Toronto (96), Vegas (93), New York Islanders (92) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (88).

Scoring goals is a strength of the Oilers. They are also seventh in total goals with 134 and the teams ahead of them are: Colorado (150), Washington (144), Pittsburgh (143), Tampa Bay and Toronto (140) and Winnipeg (136).

No question Edmonton could use a legit top-six left winger to play with Leon Draisaitl, but despite not having one the Oilers do not struggle scoring goals. But, Gregor, they rely too much on the elite scoring of Connor McDavid and Draisaitl!

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Do they?

McDavid and Draisaitl are arguably the two most dynamic offensive players in the NHL. They produce a lot of points, but when you compare their goal scoring at 5×5 to other teams’ top-two goal scorers, the Oilers don’t rely on them as much as some think.

Let’s look at the North Division. *NT2T is the total goals from the rest of team excluding the top-two goal scorers.**

Team GP Top Two Other Fwds D-men NT2T Total 5×5
TOR 42 32 59 5 64 96
MTL 39 24 48 9 57 81
CGY 41 23 40 12 52 75
EDM 42 22 47 18 65 87
WPG 42 21 57 6 63 84
OTT 43 21 50 7 57 78
VAN 37 16 40 10 50 66

McDavid and Draisaitl as a duo are actually fourth in the North in 5×5 goals compared to the other team’s top-two goal scorers. However, the other 16 skaters in Edmonton have more goals than the other 16 depth players on every other North team. Only Toronto has more total 5×5 goals than Edmonton.

And here are the teams I listed earlier who are ahead of the Oilers in either 5×5 goals or total goals.

Team GP Top Two Other Fwds D-men NT2T Total 5×5
TOR 42 32 59 5 64 96
COL 42 27 59 13 72 99
NYI 42 24 59 9 68 82
WSH 42 23 61 20 81 104
EDM 42 22 47 18 65 87
WPG 42 21 57 6 63 84
LV 41 20 52 21 73 93
TB 41 19 52 15 67 86
PITT 42 17 52 19 71 88

We do see teams like Washington well ahead of Edmonton, followed by Vegas and Colorado. No question they have more depth, and the Oilers would like to add more in the future, but in their division scoring isn’t the main problem. I feel Edmonton has improved, and moving forward they will need more depth scoring, but they are trending in the right direction.

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IMPROVING AREA OF WEAKNESS…

Edmonton is a good team. They are very competitive scoring goals at 5×5 or at even strength. I agree with the notion they could use some more offensive depth from wingers, and I expect that is an area Ken Holland will look at the off-season, but this year goal scoring isn’t their main concern.

The concern has been goals against, specifically goals against at 5×5.

Edmonton is seventh in goals scored, and right in the mix with other playoff-bound teams, but they aren’t there in goals against over the full season.

GP GF GA
Dallas 40 65 58
Montreal 39 81 60
Tampa Bay 41 86 60
Carolina 41 76 62
Colorado 42 99 65
Florida 42 80 69
NYI 41 92 69
Boston 39 63 70
Toronto 42 96 70
Nashville 43 70 72
Vegas 41 93 73
Minnesota 40 83 73
Pittsburgh 42 88 74
Winnipeg 42 84 75
New York 40 87 76
Vancouver 37 66 80
Los Angeles 41 71 81
New Jersey 40 74 81
Calgary 41 75 82
St Louis 41 74 82
Washington 42 104 82
Chicago 43 73 86
Arizona 43 75 87
Edmonton  42 87 88
Detroit 44 69 91
San Jose 41 76 92
Anaheim 43 75 93
Buffalo 41 62 95
Columbus 44 80 101
Philadelphia 41 81 104
Ottawa 43 78 112

They are 24th in goals against at 5×5. They are the only playoff-bound team in the bottom 10 in goals against. Washington is on the brink, sitting 21st, but when you factor in GA/game Washington is actually in 16th. Edmonton would be 23rd in GA/game, so still in the bottom third of the league.

However, Edmonton has shown signs of improvement after their slow start. Since February 1st the Oilers are actually 17th in GA at 5×5, and they are ninth in GF. So their offence has remained productive, but they’ve improved significantly in their goals against. And that is the trend they need to focus on improving over their final 14 games of the season.

In fact their overall GA/game since February 1st is ninth best in the NHL. And they are 10th in GF/game. They are a competitive team, and I’m curious to see what line combinations and defence pairs Dave Tippett deploys down the stretch. It could give us some insight into what we could see in the playoffs.

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We all know the playoffs are a different beast, but Edmonton has been trending in the right direction defensively for two months. They just need to continue it. Dmitry Kulikov should be a positive addition. He is won’t add much offence, but he should help on the defensive side. He had a solid season in New Jersey, where he was paired mainly with PK Subban and faced top competition most shifts. Here are his analytics.

53.7 CF%
53.01 FF%
52.05 SF%
53.07 SCF%
54.43 XGF%
42.55 GF%
30% O-zone starts.
45% TOI v. Elite.

He needs to be paired mainly with a puck mover. Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie have played much of the season together, and Tippett could switch them up, but I suspect he sticks with them. That makes Ethan Bear the logical partner for Kulikov. Adam Larsson and Kulikov have similar styles, so I wouldn’t play them together a lot. I could see a few shifts at specific times where they might be together, but if you play Bear with Kulikov you can just slide Larsson in with Nurse for the final minute of periods.

Kulikov won’t arrive in Edmonton until tomorrow according to Ken Holland, and he won’t be available to practice until April 22nd. The team likely has that day off after playing Montreal on the 21st, so we likely won’t see Kulikov skate with his teammates until Thursday the 22nd. That’s when we will get to see who Tippett sees as the best partner for Kulikov.

Here are some more stats on Kulikov courtesy of SportLogiq. He ranks as a solid #4 defender overall. He is very good at DZ denial rate, and better than you’d expect in zone exits and zone entries. He doesn’t produce a lot of points, but his puck handling skills are quite good. His puck moving skills aren’t his forte, which is why pairing him with a puck mover makes sense.

The other area he will help is the penalty kill.

Kulikov is 40th among D-men in winning puck battles on the PK. That should help the Oilers PK, as they are only 41.9% on PK faceoffs. Despite their lack of faceoff success, Edmonton’s PK has been quite good since February 1st, sitting eighth at 83.1%. But adding another bigger body who is good on the PK is a positive come playoff time.

KEEP IT UP…

In a perfect world Ken Holland would have been able to acquire a top-six left winger, but without many assets and not many legit top-six forwards available, it didn’t happen. I still feel left defence was a bigger concern, so it was wise to fill that spot first.

As we watch the final quarter of the season and the playoff matchups seemingly set in the North with Toronto/Montreal and Edmonton/Winnipeg, my focus will be on the defensive play of the Oilers. Can they continue to improve defensively, while maintaining their offence?

And while McDavid and Draisaitl are their elite scorers and the two best in the NHL, the remaining Oilers are very competitive with the rest of the division when it comes to adding offence. That will need to continue down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Quick notes..

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t skate today. That was expected. He skated on his own prior to practice and they are hopeful he will be on the ice with the team tomorrow or Thursday. He is coming off a shoulder to the face/head from Thomas Chabot so the Oilers will be very cautious with his return. Worst case is he might miss another game or two on the weekend.

Edmonton has lot of practice time in the coming weeks. They had today, tomorrow and Thursday this week, followed by another four-day break from April 22-25th. That will be six solid says of practice and with only one two-day break between games in May. Tippett will want to use these days to hammer home the finer details or their system. Practice time is vital and to have that much in short period of time could be a big benefit.

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