A review of the Oilers’ position in the standings after the first half of the 2023-24 season

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
5 months ago
About two months ago, the Edmonton Oilers held a record of 2-9-1. They were tied for dead last in the league with the San Jose Sharks, the team who started off their season on an 11-game losing streak. 
Following a win against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday night, the Oilers extended their winning streak to twelve games. This is their best twelve-game stretch in franchise history. From 2-9-1 to 25-15-1, this has been a truly remarkable turn-around for the Oilers.
Connor McDavid is healthy, all four of Edmonton’s lines are currently operating at above a 60 percent expected goal differential, Stuart Skinner’s recent play has been exceptional, and the team’s rush defensive play has massively improved following the coaching change. There are plenty of reasons for the team’s resurgence.
We are officially at the halfway point of the 2023-24 season, as Edmonton has now played 41 games. How does their first half compare to their first halves from prior seasons?

Despite such a disastrous start, Edmonton’s points percentage and goal differential after the first half of their season is the highest it has ever been in the McDavid/Draisaitl era, sitting at 0.622 and 54% respectively. 
Edmonton’s offensive production after the first half of 2023-24 is nearly identical to their first half in 2022-23, but a notable difference between the two seasons is their goals-against rate. Even though offence has significantly increased in the NHL, and the league-average save percentage has declined, Edmonton has allowed 2.9 goals against per 60, the lowest (i.e. best) rate in the first half of their past five seasons.
Edmonton has not allowed more than two goals in a game since December 22 against the Rangers. Since the coaching change, per CSA Hockey, Edmonton ranks first (!) in the NHL in high-danger chances against per hour. 
The Oilers are not perfect, but their defensive performance after their first twelve games has been nothing short of fantastic, and has been a monumental reason for their winning streak. Not to mention, Stuart Skinner’s recent play has also been excellent; since the beginning of December, he holds a 0.928 save percentage, and ranks fourth in the league with 11.3 goals saved above expected.
Despite their horrendous start to the season, Edmonton’s overall results are pretty encouraging. Historically, Edmonton has been significantly better in the second half of the season, which is a big reason why I was always confident that this team would qualify for the playoffs. Here is a look at their second-half results:

In 2019-20, Edmonton had a solid record after October and November, but a brutal month of December caused doubt for their playoff hopes. A major factor for their second-half resurgence was the play of Edmonton’s line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, and Kailer Yamamoto.
Playing in the North Division in 2020-21, Edmonton had some ups and downs in their first half, but they were significantly stronger in their second half, fueled by 57 points from McDavid in the team’s final 28 games.
Edmonton’s first half of 2021-22 was the opposite of their results in the first half of their current season. Edmonton started strong with a 16-5 record, ranking first in the NHL at one point, but had a brutal 2-11-2 stretch in subsequent games, eventually leading to the firings of Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair. Following Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson’s arrivals, the team massively improved in the second half.
In 2022-23, the Oilers had a fairly unexceptional first half, but they had a dominant 0.780 points percentage in the second half, ranking second in the NHL and only behind a historic Boston Bruins team. The team was even better following the trade for Mattias Ekholm, posting a record of 18-2-1 following Ekholm’s arrival.
It will be quite interesting to observe how the remainder of Edmonton’s 2023-24 will progress. The average points percentage of Edmonton’s second halves of their prior four seasons is 0.701; if, hypothetically, they had a 0.701 P% for their final 41 games, they would finish the 2023-24 season with roughly 108-109 points, which should guarantee them a top-eight spot in the league and a top-two spot in the division.
It isn’t entirely unrealistic for them to be even better, as Edmonton’s roster is considerably stronger than prior seasons. Additionally, note that Edmonton’s 5v5 offensive production is superior to the first halves of prior seasons, but their power-play has not been as dominant as it typically is; Edmonton has even more room to improve once their PP starts clicking at their usual league-best rates. Not to mention, potential roster upgrades at the trade deadline should also improve their record in March/April.
All things considered, reaching 100 points should be a very safe bet for this Oilers team, barring significant injuries. 
Achieving 110+ points should not entirely out of the question either; they would require a minimum points percentage of 0.720 in their final 41 games to hit at least 110 points, which does not look as unfeasible when you consider they had a 0.780 P% in the second half of 2022-23.
So, what could this all mean for their playoff placement? Here is a glance at the Western Conference playoff race:

At the moment, the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks rank atop the Western Conference, and rank first/third respectively in the entire league in terms of points percentage.
The Canucks continue to sustain an incredibly high PDO. They sit at a 13.4 percent shooting percentage, the highest rate by any NHL team in a single season since Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93. It will be interesting to see how long this can last.
The Jets have the lowest (i.e. best) goals-against rate in the NHL, allowing just 2.26 goals against per hour. Out of all goalies with a minimum of 20 games played, Connor Hellebuyck ranks first with a 0.924 save percentage, saving a full 24 goals more than expected, as he has been fantastic. However, that should not take away from the defensive play of their skates, as the team has allowed 24.7 chances against per 60, ranking fifth in the NHL.
Since November 12, the Canucks rank third in the NHL with a 0.694 points percentage, while the Jets rank first with a 0.793 points percentage. The Oilers rank between them in second place, with a 0.786 points percentage.
Edmonton’s victory over Seattle earned them a top-three spot in the Pacific Division for the first time this season. Barring unforeseen circumstances or major injuries, the Oilers will certainly qualify for the playoffs. Moving forward, a major question for them is if they can win home-ice. They are now ahead of the Kings by one point, with a game in hand.
If the playoffs began today, Edmonton would face Vegas in the first round, with Vegas having home-ice advantage. Edmonton is six points behind Vegas, but they do have four games in hand. Edmonton’s next four games are against Calgary, Columbus, Chicago, and Nashville, and after a ten-day break, they will play Vegas on February 6. 
There is a very realistic possibility that Edmonton surpasses Vegas in the standings by that point, especially with Jack Eichel set to miss four-to-six weeks.
Could the Oilers catch Vancouver and finish first in the Pacific Division, or even the Conference? While the Oilers do have four games in hand on the Canucks, it will be difficult to erase a thirteen-point gap if Vancouver’s play can sustain. However it is not a guarantee if their play sustains in the first place, and if Edmonton’s second half is similar to their second-half performance from 2022-23, it is certainly a possibility.
Following a brutal start, the Edmonton Oilers have been one of the league’s best teams in the league since November. This will be a team to watch out for in the second half of the season. Tonight, the Oilers will play the Calgary Flames, possessing a chance of having the longest winning streak of any Canadian team in NHL history.

*All stats via Natural Stat Trick unless stated otherwise
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