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Photo Credit: © Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

How Good Are the Oilers?

Through 20 games the Edmonton Oilers are off to the second-best start in franchise history at 15-5. Only the 16-3-1 start in 1983-84 was better. The hot start doesn’t guarantee success in the playoffs — nothing any NHL franchise does in October or November can impact how it performs in the postseason — but winning 15 of their first 20 games has virtually locked up a playoff spot for the Oilers.

Prior to this season, 37 teams won 15 games in first 20 of a season. They all made playoffs, although the 1925 Hamilton Tigers didn’t play as players went on strike due to what they deemed insufficient pay. The Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes are the 38th and 39th teams to win 15 of their first 20. Edmonton’s great start will allow Oilersnation to relax knowing a playoff appearance is coming. You can enjoy the next few months, debate line combinations and other nuances, but how the team performs night-to-night won’t be a major cause of concern until they get into March and April and teams start preparing for the playoffs. You can’t ask a team to be “playoff ready” between October-February. It would be too mentally taxing.

The roster today, and next month, will be different than the one we see in the playoffs. How different is unknown, but Edmonton could have three to five players come playoff time. Mike Smith has played three games. Josh Archibald and Dylan Holloway have played none. All three might be on the roster in April heading into the playoffs. And GM Ken Holland could make a trade or two as well.

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But until that happens, let’s look at the first 20 games. Edmonton had the second most wins, Carolina was 16-3-1, after 20 games and they were 7-0 within the division. It is hard to envision a better start for the Oilers.

They were 8-1 at home and outscored teams 38-26 with a 37.9% PP and an 86.2% PK.
They went 7-4 on the road outscoring teams 37-33 with a 37.5% PP and 87.9% on the PK.

Their special teams have been outstanding, clicking at 37.7% on the PP and 87.1% on the PK. They are a league-best 124.2% combined.

They have outscored teams at 21-20 at 5×5 on home ice.
They’ve been outscored 26-22 at 5×5 on the road.

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They are eighth in the NHL in 5×5 goals/game at 2.15. Scoring isn’t an issue. However, they are 28th in goals against/game at 2.30.

The Oilers know they need to reduce their GA at 5×5. It won’t happen overnight. It will be a focus all season, and I expect the final two months is where I will really focus on it to see if players are preparing for a more detailed defensive approach. It doesn’t mean they won’t start now, but many former players, regardless of which team they played for, said the defensive focus often ramped up in the final two months of the season.

SUPERSTARS…

Dec 6, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) and forward Leon Draisaitl (29) discuss a play during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

No other NHL team has two superstars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Those two score more than anyone, and that might skew some overall team numbers. There has been some talk about how Edmonton has been outscored 25-12 without either of them on the ice. It is a fair question. So let’s look at their minutes compared to the rest of the team.

McDavid and Draisaitl have been on the ice for a total of 533 minutes at 5×5. Edmonton is outscoring teams 31-21 — not a big surprise that when the league’s two best offensive stars are on the ice, Edmonton outscores opponents.

In 436 minutes without them on the ice, Edmonton has been outscored 25-12. Obviously an issue.

Team      MIN            SF-SA                       SCF%                   Sv%              GF-GA
97/29      533     297-303 (49.5%)     256-269 (48.7%)     .930Sv%      31-21
W/0         436     200-227 (46.9%)     81-84   (49.1%)        .890Sv%       12-25

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The numbers are via Natural Stat trick, and while we can debate the accuracy of their scoring chances, it is the same grading for both groups, and a shot is a shot. I’d like to dig in deeper to the video to see why the massive difference in Sv%.

It isn’t surprising the Oilers on ice SH% with 97 and 29 is 10.4%, and when they are off-the-ice it is 6%. They are more skilled, but the team’s Sv%, when they are off the ice, is what I’d like to take a deeper dive into. They aren’t giving up significantly more scoring chances, but maybe they are allowing many more high quality chances. Either way, it needs to improve.

REPORT CARD…

Oct 21, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Zach Hyman (18) celebrates his goal against the Arizona Coyotes with teammates on the bench during the third period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Here is some data from SportLogiq.
Expected Goals = XG
Ozone possession time= OZP
Shot attempts= SA
Shots on goal = SOG
Slots shots = SS
Inner slot shots = ISS
Rush chances = RC
Cycle chances = CC
Forecheck chances = FC
Rebound chances = RC
Slot pass completions = SPC

Forwards TOI xG OZP SA SOG SS ISS RC CC FC RC SPC
 Hyman 271 11.78 12:04 92 60 41 35 14 30 8 9 17
Draisaitl 338 13.04 24:22 132 70 41 18 22 36 5 4 79
McDavid 339 9.12 27:49 120 78 39 16 24 30 6 2 86
RNH 285 4.12 13:56 80 47 25 12 9 23 6 2 32
Puljujarvi 297 6.08 7:14 84 51 29 12 16 20 7 7 14
Kassian 200 2.90 4:43 27 18 15 10 8 10 1 2 4
Foegele 234 2.41 7:17 51 24 14 9 10 15 2 1 11
Yamamoto 272 3.55 6:32 42 26 15 9 14 7 3 2 13
Ryan 155 0.84 3:03 20 15 8 4 3 6 0 2 6
Turris 112 1.01 3:21 21 12 6 3 2 4 0 1 5
McLeod 106 1.25 3:20 14 9 4 3 2 4 3 0 8
Sceviour 81 1.45 1:53 25 13 5 3 1 6 1 1 6
Benson 61 0.45 1:34 15 6 4 1 4 2 1 1 2
Shore 62 0.45 1:21 7 5 3 1 2 1 0 2 2
Perlini 90 0.27 1:32 13 6 1 0 0 1 0 0 0

Hyman leads the NHL in inner slot shot, which is why he has such a high xG. Mike Kelly had some good answers to tracking data in this interview. Kassian has also been around the net as his ISS/60 would be third behind Draisaitl. He doesn’t get as many slot shots, though, more in tight. On the other end, Perlini hasn’t been around the net nearly enough with only one slot shot and no inner slot shots. Benson has five in 30 less minutes, and likely a reason why I think we could see him more often in the fourth line LW spot.

Here are some 5×5 zone entries and exits stats.

FWDS 5×5 TOI Zone entries Zone exits
Draisaitl 338 95 151
McDavid 339 125 130
 Hyman 271 73 100
Puljujarvi 297 62 97
Yamamoto 272 66 88
Foegele 234 43 80
RNH 285 37 66
Kassian 200 20 57
Turris 112 17 38
McLeod 106 15 37
Ryan 155 18 37
Sceviour 81 13 27
Benson 61 8 21
Perlini 90 8 18
Shore 62 6 13
Dmen 5×5 TOI Zone entries Zone exits
Nurse 325 29 54
Ceci 346 12 50
Bouchard 331 11 37
Barrie 303 2 29
Keith 305 0 18
Russell 129 3 18
Broberg 73 4 12
Koekkoek 105 1 10
Lagesson 21 0 1

It is interesting to me how few zone entries and exits RNH has. I’d be curious why Yamamoto, Hyman and Puljujarvi are carrying the puck more than he does. I wonder if there is any connection to his lack of puck carries and his early season low goal totals.

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Not a surprise Nurse leads the blue line in both categories,

OPC: Outlet pass completions (Any pass that originates from the DZ and moves the play forward, but it can be anywhere in the DZ or even the NZ as long as it’s before the redline).

SPC: Stretch pass completions (A pass that originates from the DZ and passes the centre ice redline).

DZPC: DZ pass completions (Any pass that originates from DZ and is completed).

Dmen at 5v5 TOI OPC SPC DZPC
Keith 305 139 38 284
Bouchard 331 131 33 245
Barrie 303 126 28 232
Nurse 325 102 16 209
Ceci 347 95 23 209
Russell 129 49 13 95
Koekkoek 105 48 8 80
Broberg 73 34 2 58
Lagesson 22 10 2 15

Keith’s passing has been his biggest strength. He doesn’t transport the puck much at all, but he’s been the most accurate passer on the team. And Kris Russell’s outlet and stretch pass completion/60 is quite high as he’d be right behind Bouchard. Russell has quietly had a very solid season as he leads the team in GF% at 70%. He’s only been on the ice for three goals against.

Here is how I’d rank the players thus far.

Forwards:

A++…Draisaitl. Leads the league in goals and points. He plays in all situations — the power play, shorthanded, 5×5 and in OT. He kills penalties, has won 56.1% of his face offs, and when he’s on the ice the Oilers have outscored opponents 23-12.
A+.McDavid. He’s scored two mind-blowing goals and continues to produce at a ridiculous rate.
A: Puljujarvi. Solid start. He continues to improve and still hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.
A: Hyman. Relentless on the puck. Always around the net. Solid on both special teams. If he buried a few more of his chances he’d have been an A+.
A-: Nugent-Hopkins. Solid start. Odd that he is on pace for career high in assists and career low in goals (in a full season). He will bury more goals in next 20 games.
B+: Mcleod. After uneventful preseason he went down to AHL, and when recalled he looked like a player hungry to earn his ice time. His last six games have been his best. Arrow pointing up.
B: Kassian. He has nine points in 16 games and seven at 5×5. Needs more consistent energy and emotion.
B: Foegele. Has as many 5×5 points as RNH. Had a few tough games at 5×5 GA, but he wasn’t really involved in the goals against. Strong on the cycle. As games became more physical I think he will thrive more.
B-: Benson. Gives you everything he has. Has played limited minutes and had to change his game to become more of an energy guy and a pest. I give players credit when they are willing to alter their game to fit a role.
C+: Yamamoto. Only has four points at 5×5 despite playing in top six all season. Has been very good on the PK, and started to get better at 5×5, but needs more production when playing with league’s leading scorer.
C: Shore, Sceviour, Turris. Have chipped in different ways. Shore had started to play better before being injured and his P/60 is solid. Sceviour helps the PK, while Turris best contributions have come in the SO.
C-: Perlini and Ryan. Ryan has been on the ice for far too many GA. He helps on PK and is still very good on face offs. Needs to lower GA in next quarter. Perlini hasn’t been on the ice for one goal this season. I acknowledge it is difficult to contribute in limited minutes, but he needs to go to dirty areas a bit more.

Defence:

A-: Ceci. Has played the most minutes and has twice as many defensive zone starts as every D-man except Keith.
A-: Russell. He has a team best GF% of 70. He’s only been on the ice for three goals against. He was in the third pairing until the past three games where he played just under 23 minutes/game and he was 5-1 GF-GA at 5×5. And his passing, as shown above, has been solid.
B+:
 Evan Bouchard. Like most young players he’s had some ups and downs, but for the most part he has been solid. His long-term potential looks great.
B: Nurse. Played huge minutes and chipped in 11 points in 16 games. He could have a higher grade if he had scored at least one goal. He is expected to chip in some goals.
B: Keith. Considering all the D-zone starts he takes, to be close to 50% in SCF, slightly above in xGF% and slightly below in GF% is good. His passing has been outstanding, especially his stretch passes. Would like to see him get a bit more engaged in the rush.
B-: Tyson Barrie. Would like a bit more 5×5 production when he is starting in offensive zone as often as he is. Might just be random, but he’s been more assertive on home ice. Would like to see more of that on the road.
B-: Philip Broberg. Very small sample size of four games and he’s been asked to play more minutes than he should. It has reflected in his 2-5 GF-GA at 5×5. His skating his outstanding, but like most young D-men he will need to work on his positioning defensively. It is a much harder position to play than forward, so learning curves are expected. Getting these games, and big minutes, will only help him. He will be a very good top-four D-man in Edmonton in the future.
C: Slater Koekkoek. The difference between his GF% and xGF% (36.3%, 34.6%) compared to Russell’s (70%, 45.1%) is quite noticeable. He can play better.
NA: William Lagesson It was only two games, but he filled in nicely.

Goalies:

B+: Mikko Koskinen. He is 11-2 and wins are very important. He’s had some unreal games v. St. Louis and Vegas, but still struggles with allowing the low% shot. He has filled in very well for Mike Smith, and if it wasn’t for the low% shots he’d likely have an A.
B+: Stuart Skinner. The rookie has been very solid. He was unreal in his 2-1 SO win over Winnipeg and has been pretty solid in his other four starts. He learned a lot from his one game v. Ottawa last season, and put in a lot of work since, and it has shown. He is the best goalie prospect Edmonton has developed since Devan Dubnyk was drafted in 2004.
NA: Mike Smith. He only started three games, and left midway through the third one. When he played he was good, but injuries make it difficult to grade him.

Coaching:

A: The special teams are outstanding. The power play isn’t a surprise, but the penalty kill to be this good despite so many changes on defence and forward is a credit to Jim Playfair’s structure. Dave Tippett has called more timeouts this season, and more often than not when he switches lines or D pairs it has worked out. Many felt Skinner would start in Vegas, but Tippett went with Koskinen and it was the right call. When a team is 15-5 and many facets of the game are going well, coaching should get some credit.

LOOKING AHEAD…

Edmonton plays eight of their next 10 games at home. They have a great opportunity to build on their hot start. However, injuries and illness on the blue line could make it a challenge. Cody Ceci was placed on COVID protocol this morning, Keith moved to IR and Markus Niemelainen was recalled. Playing without Nurse, Keith and Ceci will be a challenge. The Oilers are hopeful Nurse will return later this week and maybe Keith too.

If the Oilers manage to win six of their next 10 games they will tie the franchise record for most wins (21) in the first 30 games. The 1983-84, 1984-85 and 1985-86 teams all won 21 games.

I don’t expect Edmonton to win 15 of their next 20, but if they can win 12 they will be in a great spot to push to win their first division title since 1987.

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