Unpacking the Oilers’ resurgence: Key factors behind their playoff push

Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Sunil Agnihotri
1 month ago
Plenty of success has been had this season for the Edmonton Oilers, who have now won 45 of their 73 games, securing 95 points. Their 0.651 points percentage ranks second in the Pacific division and eighth best in the league.
What’s especially impressive is how often the Oilers have won their games by a decent margin. Their +55 goal differential in all situations ranks sixth best in the league, due in large part to their overall health, the high-end talent up front, their ability to control the flow of play and proportion of scoring chances at even-strength and their success on the powerplay. The overall results this season have looked real and sustainable and should hopefully translate into a long playoff run – especially if their top players can stay healthy and their goaltending holds up.
It’s clear that the team has the talent to do some damage, but how well do they compare with the rest of the league and the other teams contending for a championship this spring?
One way to evaluate a team’s talent level is by looking into the number of clear victories they’ve posted. Clear Victories is a metric that Scott Reynolds analyzed and tracked over a decade ago over at The Copper & Blue and is defined as a win by two goals or more, excluding empty net goals. The key takeaway from Reynolds’ analysis is that clear victories were a better indicator of a team’s true talent level than the team’s overall record. And teams who more often win games by a larger margin tend to have better success in the future. Heading into the post-season this metric can really help identify the teams that have an edge over their competition and if any of the contenders might be considered outliers.
With a lot of help from Ganesh Murdeshwar from PuckIQ, I was able to put the following table together that sorts each NHL team by their points percentage along with the number of clear victories they’ve posted this season. This metric isn’t readily available, so I appreciate the support from Ganesh! You can follow him on X/Twitter at @OilersNerdAlert.
Again, Clear Victories is defined as a win by two or more goals excluding empty net goals. One additional criterion is that the winning team has that goal differential of at least two with three minutes left in the game. This helps avoid the scenarios where an empty net goal is scored earlier in the period (as we know teams are pulling their goalies earlier), or when a penalty results in a goalie pull.
Included in this table is each team’s Clear Victories Percentage (CV%), which is the number of clear victories divided by their total number of games, along with each team’s Clear Losses Percentage (CL%). I’ve also applied a basic heat map to each team’s points percentage and Clear Victories Percentage to see how teams compare with one another, and if there are teams who might be winning a lot but often by a smaller margin.
The top teams when it comes to Clear Victories Percentage this season are Colorado (44.0 percent), Winnipeg (41.3 percent), Vancouver (39.2 percent), Tampa Bay (39.2 percent) and the New York Rangers (38.7 percent). The league average is 29.6 percent. Edmonton ranks eighth in the league and fourth in the Western Conference, with 38.4 percent of their games being clear victories, sitting just behind Carolina and Florida. They’re right where we would expect them to be based on their points percentage, and confirms what we already know – they have the necessary talent. They just trail behind the rest of the contenders. What also sticks out when looking at the Oilers is that they’ve also lost a lot of games by two goals or more, relative to the other top-end teams. A lot of those two-goal losses happened early in the season, but there was that stretch in February where they weren’t playing very well and losing to teams that were below them in the standings.
Dallas sticks out here as well, as they rank second in the league in terms of points percentage, but only tenth overall in terms of clear victories. I didn’t realize that they’d been winning a lot of close games, which is a little concerning heading into the playoffs. They do have decent goaltending, which is obviously going to be a major factor for them. But this analysis indicates that their talent among skaters isn’t as high as what the rest of the contenders have. Winnipeg is another interesting team as they’ve struggled recently, and rank tenth in terms of points percentage. But their proportion of clear victories remains one of the highest, indicating that their roster has the talent that could turn things around pretty quickly. And looking at Vegas, it’s tough to see them having a lot of success in the playoffs when their Clear Victories Percentage ranks 19th in the league. They have been missing some top end players who could (miraculously) come back for the playoffs, but for now, it’s not looking too good.
Tampa Bay is the one club that could do some major damage if they secure a playoff spot. They’ve been on a tear recently, going 8-1-1 in their last ten games. And it comes as no surprise considering the talent and experience they have across their roster. What’s interesting about them is that their Clear Victories Percentage was ninth highest in the league just a few weeks ago, so the signs were there that the team was going to turn things around.
What really stands out from this analysis is that while the Oilers are showing positive signs and can be considered cup contenders, there are a bunch of other talented teams having great seasons as well. Like any other post-season, it will come down to the competitive edges that a team has developed through roster construction, player development and tactics. And it’ll come through in different ways, including scoring depth, goaltending and special teams. For now, we have a good handle on which teams have the talent and can be considered legit contenders. And this should make for a fairly competitive post-season, especially in the Western Conference.
Data: NHL.com, Natural Stat Trick

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