Good Teams Lose Games

Photo credit:Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
2 years ago
So the Oilers lost a hockey game to Detroit and now, according to some fans, the incredible 9-1-0 franchise record-setting start to the season means nothing. It’s a shame really. All of that hard work, gone because they didn’t win a game against an Eastern Conference opponent. 
I’m not sure why I felt the need to start this off with such heavy sarcasm, but that’s really how I’m feeling today. It was pretty annoying to wake up and see my mentions filled with pessimistic fans that have concluded that the Oilers will do nothing in the playoffs because of last night’s loss. 
This team is off to an incredible start. They’ve gotten better goaltending than expected, their powerplay has been historically productive (like some predicted), and in a few games, they’ve even gotten timely depth scoring. On top of that, the complimentary pieces in their top six have been great to start the year and Evan Bouchard has looked better than most expected. There are a lot of things going very well for this group, yet there seems to be this narrative floating around that these wins don’t mean as much because the Oilers aren’t playing perfect hockey. I don’t get it. 
Let’s sort through a few of the common complaints coming from parts of the fan base.


Nov 9, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) makes a save
on Detroit Red Wings center Robby Fabbri (14) in the second period at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
I suppose that’s true to a degree. I thought it was a massive risk to bring back both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen for a third straight season. I thought they really needed to change things up there.
They didn’t and so far, it’s working out. Koskinen has been tremendous and is rocking a .920 sv% right now and Smith was looked really good before he got hurt. But really, we shouldn’t be that surprised.
In the last two seasons, the Oilers rank 11th in the NHL in team SV% and 12th in goals against per game.
So far this season? The Oilers are 11th in team SV% and 20th in goals against per game. 
The duo of Smith and Koskinen has been a serviceable tandem for the last two regular seasons now so we really shouldn’t be stunned that the Oilers’ goaltending is holding up early in the season.
Also, every team needs good goaltending to win games. It’s the most important position in the sport. So, to the people saying that the Oilers are lucky that their goaltending is holding up, I would say “would these wins mean more to you if the Oilers gave up five goals in every game?”
They’ve won three games this year where their starting goaltender had a save percentage worse than .930. That’s right about on par with the other top teams in the league. 


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
I mean, yeah, their powerplay has been absolutely electric. That’s obvious. Also, that isn’t a bad thing.
They have two of the best offensive producers in the NHL and a high-end powerplay quarterback in Tyson Barrie. Combine that with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has been a great powerplay producer throughout his career, and Zach Hyman, who’s looking like an elite net-front presence, and you have the recipe for a dangerous group.
The Oilers have gotten some massive goals from their powerplay and again, I’m not sure why some are trying to make that out to be a bad thing. When they get powerplays, they have the ability to punish teams. Based on what we’ve seen over the last few seasons, I don’t think this group will slow down too much either. 
I wouldn’t say that their powerplay has bailed them out, I would say that their powerplay is a big reason why they’re such a dangerous team. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. They have an elite group of high-end talent.
Also, the idea that the Oilers just flat out suck at five on five just isn’t that true. Sure, they could be better. I’ve said that multiple times already this season. But it’s not like they just get routinely worked at even strength night in and night out.
The Oilers are actually getting a decent amount of offence at five on five, sitting 5th in the NHL in goals for/60. Producing at even strength is not the issue, defending is. This is the one area where I’ll agree they need to be better.
They currently sit 27th in shots against/60, 22nd in scoring chances against/60 and 26th in goals against/60 at five on five. That’s not good enough. They need to do a better job defending.
At the same time, they have been leading in a lot of hockey games. They’ve held the lead for an average of 22:13 of five on five play per game this year. That’s third-best in the NHL. Their numbers do look a little bit better when they’re tied in a game compared to when they’re winning as well. That’s important to remember.
The Oilers are 9-2-0 this season and off to a fantastic start while other teams that wanted to be contenders in the Western Conference like Vegas and Colorado are off to slow starts.
Do the Oilers have things they need to work on? Absolutely. This team isn’t perfect. But it’s also wildly unfair to look at one bad game against Detroit and say that this team doesn’t have what it takes to be a legit contender. 
Last year, the best team in the NHL was the Colorado Avalanche. They still lost 17 games in a 56 game season. In 2019-20, the Boston Bruins were atop the NHL when the regular season was halted. They lost 26 games. Heck, if the Oilers get to the 100 point mark this season, that means they’ll still lose roughly 30 games. 
If you think that the Oilers aren’t legit contenders in the West because they have off nights, I would say that you should probably look around the league and see how often other top teams have bad games. It happens. 
(all numbers provided by Natural Stat Trick)


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