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Photo Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Impressive, Not Perfect

There are no shortage of reasons to be impressed with the Oiler’s 5-0 start to the season. They are one of just four teams to not have a regulation loss so far this season and not only do they sit atop the Pacific Division, but they are already eight points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights, who I still believe are the only team in this division in the same tier as the Oilers, despite their slow start.

The first big key to the Oiler’s hot start: their powerplay. As we expected, it has been insanely productive. They’re converting on a league-leading 47% of their powerplays and have scored eight goals with the man advantage (no other team has more than six heading into action on Monday). 

What’s been just as impressive is how timely their powerplay has been, coming through in key moments. Against Anaheim, they got a big goal with 31 seconds left in the first from Draisaitl and then in the third, Zack Kassian got a powerplay goal to tie up the game when it looked like they might be about to lose momentum. Against Vegas, they got a big powerplay marker from Zach Hyman in the first period which really seemed to wake up the team after they fell behind early.

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This was supposed to be an area of strength for the Oilers and it has been so far.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have also gotten off to better starts than anyone really could have imagined. They’re both averaging more than two points per game and have combined for ten goals in the first five games of the season. The Oilers are getting absolutely insane production from that duo and it’s right at the top of the list of reasons why they’re 5-0.

They’re also getting depth scoring, which is something they have lacked since 2016-17. Every player on their third line has a goal already and the production from Kassian specifically has been a welcomed sight. He has three goals already after just scoring two in 27 games last season.

Side note: I have a feeling that Warren Foegele is on his way to being a fan favourite. It’s only a matter of time until someone is rocking a ‘FoegDaddy’ jersey at a game.

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One surprising part of this hot start for the Oilers has been their goaltending. Mike Smith looked very good through two games and even though he had a rough outing against the Ducks, he still has a .920 save percentage.

When he went down with a lower-body injury, I’m sure most Oilers fans were feeling uneasy. However, Mikko Koskinen has been far better than expected. He’s now played 148 minutes and only allowed five goals. His .943 save percentage also ranks eighth among goalies who have appeared in at least three games.

Oct 16, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates after a first period goal against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of reasons to feel very good about this team and considering how bad their division is, this is looking like a team that is fully capable of winning their division.

It’s not just Oilers fans believing that either. They opened the year with the second-best odds to win the Pacific at +500 and now, after just five games, their odds to win the division have risen to +125 and our friends at Pointsbet have them as the favourites, ahead of the aforementioned Golden Knights.

Now, the Oilers’ record may be perfect but their play on the ice has not been.

They sit dead last in the NHL in shots against/60 at even strength. That is not a recipe for success. Last year, only two of the bottom ten teams in SA/60 made the playoffs. They were the Predators and the Oilers.

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With the firepower they have up front, the Oilers do not need to be a defensive juggernaut by any means. As long as they are league average for the rest of the season, I think this team will win their division. The problem for me is that they are currently not just league-average, they’re league-worst.

One encouraging sign from looking at the numbers on Natural StatTrick is that the Oilers are closer to league average in terms of scoring chances against/60, where they rank 23rd, and high-danger Corsi against/60, where they rank 16th. 

Those numbers line up with what I’ve seen on the ice through five games. They’re spending a good amount of time in their own zone, but actually do a solid job of not allowing teams to get to the inside and create good scoring chances. That’s part of the reason their goalies both have solid save percentages (11th in ES team save percentage) despite being 17th in GA/60 at even strength. They’re in the top half of the league in ES SV% and the bottom half is GA/60 at ES.

They have been prone to some ugly mistakes though and a lot of the goals they gave up this year have not been a product of their opponent being better than them, but rather the Oilers blowing coverage in their own zone or making really poor decisions with the puck.

They are winning games because of their two superstars producing at an insane level, their powerplay being the best in the league, and some timely depth scoring. They are not winning hockey games because of their ability to defend or because of the play of any one defenseman.

Do not let people fool you into thinking that any one of the additions to their blueline has magically allowed this team to turn a corner. The credit for this 5-0 record goes to this team’s ability to find the back of their opponent’s net, not their ability to keep the puck out of their own.

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I do think that this team has the personnel to be better defensively. Tyson Barrie has been struggling, he can be much better than he’s currently showing. On top of that, the Keith/Ceci pairing has been average. At even-strength, that duo has been outscored 5-4 and outshot 49-37. I think all three of those players have the ability to play much better than they have through five games and that would obviously lead to this team giving up fewer shots and even spending more time in the other team’s end. They haven’t been terrible and they have each made some terrific passes that have led directly to goals, but their games as a whole have not been good enough.

A 5-0 start should have everyone feeling good and the fact that they’re currently undefeated despite having not played up to their full potential is very encouraging to me. 

If the right players find their games, and the right pieces are added between now and the deadline, then this group could be ready to do something special.