First impressions of the Edmonton Oilers thus far

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
With a 6-4 win on Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Edmonton Oilers move to a 2-2 record in their first four games of the regular season. 
At this stage of the season, it’s certainly quite early to make firm assessments or conclusions regarding the vast majority of topics. Especially in such a luck-based sport like hockey, tons of odd things can occur in such a limited sample. It’s important to remain cautious.
With that said, we can still make some initial impressions of the team’s performance so far. Here are some things to note throughout their first four games of the 2022-23 season.
*All microstats via Corey Sznajder, all other stats via EvolvingHockey, Natural Stat Trick and PuckIQ unless stated otherwise

The power play is superb, but the team needs to limit their goals and chances allowed

As usual, the Oilers have been quite dangerous on the man advantage. They’ve scored 15.4 power-power play goals per hour, and they possess a 38 PP%, ranking 3rd in the league behind Colorado and Minnesota in both regards. It’s been one of the primary driving forces behind their two victories so far.
However, limiting goals and shots against has been the major thing holding the team back. The team ranks 26th in the league in 5v5 goals against per hour, and 28th in 5v5 expected goals against per hour. Every Pacific Division team with the exception of Arizona has allowed chances at a lower rate than Edmonton, which is a concern. The penalty-kill has struggled as well, as Edmonton ranks 25th in shorthanded goals against per 60.
A significant portion of this is their defence, as seen by their poor scoring chance suppression, while some of it is also goaltending.
After Jack Campbell was pulled against Calgary, Stuart Skinner had an excellent performance, saving all 31 shots he faced. He saved a total of 3.6 goals above expected, which is an impressive mark to achieve in just one game. However, he was below-average against Buffalo. As for Campbell, he’s been somewhat inconsistent in the games he’s played. 
Campbell got off to a poor start against Vancouver but was rock-solid for the second half of the game. However, he was pulled against Calgary after allowing four goals on eleven shots. After Skinner got the start against Buffalo, Campbell started against Carolina on Thursday, where he made some great saves, but was also at fault for some goals against. Overall, Campbell has a 0.874 SV%, and has allowed 3.5 goals more than expected.
His results are considerably skewed from his poor start against Calgary, but regardless, it’s fair to say that Campbell must be more consistent for Edmonton to contend. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs as the season progresses.

Ryan McLeod could have a big season

Ryan McLeod has had a very good start to 2022-23.
He’s tied for second on the team with 2 goals and ranks fourth with a 54% expected goals percentage. He had an excellent night on Thursday, with a goal, a drawn penalty, and a 75 xG%.
He’s been one of the team’s most efficient transition players so far, which is a continuation of his performance last season, where he ranked 3rd on the team in controlled zone entries per hour, and 2nd in possession zone exits per hour. 
As I wrote here, McLeod already has exceptional defensive metrics at both even-strength and on the penalty-kill, but moving forward, his major area for improvement is producing offence. My only issue with McLeod is that he doesn’t shoot enough, but overall, he’s certainly showing flashes of more offensive talent to start this season. I’m excited to see the player he can develop into. 
It’s unfortunate that the team couldn’t sign McLeod to a long-term contract, and it may end up costing them this offseason when Evan Bouchard requires a contract.

Murray-Bouchard just doesn’t seem to work

In these four games, Ryan Murray and Evan Bouchard have played the bulk of their time together as a pair, and their early results are not good at all.
The pair has been on-ice for 4 goals against, and no goals for, alongside a 34 xG%. They’ve spent considerable time in their own zone, and they just don’t seem to be the right fit. Edmonton is currently running 11F/7D, but when they’re running a lineup with 6D, Murray-Bouchard shouldn’t be a pair. 

Brett Kulak has struggled, but he can still play 2LD

Brett Kulak’s defensive underlying numbers in Montreal were excellent, and they continued throughout the regular season and playoffs for Edmonton last season. However, in this season so far, he ranks last among defencemen in shot and scoring chance differential, as Edmonton is not performing well on either end of the ice with Kulak on ice.
Of course, it’s only four games, and I fully expect those numbers to bounce back, but I also think he needs a different partner. Currently, it’s Tyson Barrie.
Last season, Kulak and Barrie did excel together. In a sample of 347 regular-season and playoff minutes, the pair of Kulak – Barrie posted a 64% goal differential, and a 55% expected goal differential. Playing with Kulak was the first time that Barrie produced positive defensive metrics over a considerable sample size in the past five years.
However, the pair was quite sheltered, playing just 21% of their total time-on-ice against elite competition. For comparison, the pair of Nurse-Ceci played close to 50% of their time against elites.
Kulak – Barrie can thrive as a third-pair, but Barrie just can’t handle a top-four role on a good team, and we have plenty of evidence to support this. No Oilers defenceman allows more shots, goals, and chances when playing top opposition than Barrie, and I believe he is dragging down Kulak’s abilities. Perhaps they bounce back as a top-four pair in a larger sample, but I’m doubtful.
Some may argue that Kulak can’t handle the 2LD role, and that this is the primary reason for his poor metrics, but I disagree. In a reasonably big sample of 1056 minutes in the past four seasons, teams have out-scored elite opposition at a ratio of 51 – 41 with Kulak on-ice; note that this sample includes a considerable amount of time spent on some pretty poor Montreal teams.
Furthermore, there’s also no Oilers defenceman that denies zone entries and rush chances at a higher rate than Kulak. While Kulak may not be some top-tier defenceman, I do think he can handle a top-four role on a strong team.
For the time being, I’d try Kulak – Bouchard together; Bouchard’s defensive game has been shaky to start the season, but it’s not like Edmonton has any better options to try, as Ceci will likely remain as a lock to play 1RD. Meanwhile, sheltering Barrie on the third pair to the highest extent possible should the move for now, and I’d undoubtedly look for an upgrade on Barrie at the trade deadline.

Connor McDavid can definitely hit 50 goals

With five goals and ten points in four games, Connor McDavid is off to an excellent start, as usual. Can this be the season he cracks 50+ goals? 
“This summer, I said to him that he needs to score 60 goals because I know that he can, and he should every year,” Leon Draisaitl had said, regarding McDavid. 
In the shortened season of 2020-21, McDavid produced 33 goals in 56 games, which equates to a pace of 48 goals over 82 games. Last season, he hit a career-high 44 goals in 80 games.
However, something worth noting is that in spite of McDavid’s career highs in production in 21-22, he was actually unlucky relative to other seasons. McDavid was at a career-high in scoring chances and expected goals created, but he had a 5v5 shooting percentage of 10.6%, which was the lowest in his career. He scored 22 5v5 goals on 22.8 expected goals; typically, McDavid scores roughly 5-7 goals above expected. 
If McDavid shot at his career average at 5v5 last season, he would have scored roughly ~28-29 5v5 goals, which would equate to a total of 50-51 goals. Consequently, it’s very reasonable to expect McDavid to regress to his career average this season, meaning 50+ goals is a very realistic possibility assuming he stays healthy. So far, he’s certainly off to a great start toward achieving that mark.
What are your first impressions of the Oilers through the first four games of 2022-23? 
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