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It’s time for a second half heater

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Photo credit:© Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
2 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers, in the Connor McDavid era, are usually a team that gets better in the second half of the season. From puck drop in October until December 31st, they have suffered through some rather tough cold streaks. From January until the end of the regular season, they get hot.
Back in 2016-17, when they made their first run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with McDavid, this was the case. From October until December 31st, they were 19-12-7, which is a .592-point percentage. From January 1st on, they were 28-14-2, good for a .659-point percentage.
Not a wild jump, but they still got better as the year went on.
Skipping to the post-pandemic seasons, the trend has continued.
In 2021-22, they had a points percentage of .592 in their first 31 games of the season (a record of 18-12-1). From January 1st onward that season, they were 31-15-5 which gave them the 10th-best point percentage in the league at .657. 
A small jump, but that included a month of January where they really struggled. Remember, they didn’t fire Dave Tippett until closer to the middle of February.
Last season, they went 20-16-2 in October, November and December. Their .553 points percentage ranked 20th in the NHL. From January on, they went 30-7-7 (.761), and only the Boston Bruins had a higher point percentage than the Oilers over that span.
They get better the later the season goes along as well. In 2021-22, they had a .741 point percentage in the 29 games they played from March 1st until the end of the season. The third-best number in the league over that span.
In 2022-23, they were the best team in the league from March 1st until the end of the season with a stunning 18-2-1 record.
The Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers almost always get better as the season goes along. So why couldn’t they do that again this year?
Well, if the historic trends aren’t enough to make you believe, then their schedule should help.
From their Christmas break until the end of January, the Oilers play a lot of teams that you’d consider ‘weaker’ opponents. I fully understand that there are no easy nights in the NHL, but the Oilers don’t have to go head-to-head against very many elite teams over the course of the next 30 days.
In fact, if you break down their schedule into three-game chunks, you quickly see how winning 66% of these games should be the expectation. Here’s the breakdown.
@ SJS@ LAK@ ANA
VS PHI – VS OTT – @ CHI
@ DET – @ MTL – VS TOR
VS SEA – @ CGY – @ CBJ
VS CHI – VS NSH
That’s what the Oilers will be facing in the days leading up to their bye-week. I went ahead and bolded the games where they’ll face elite teams and put the opponents that are lottery teams in italics.
Five games against lottery teams and only two against elite teams. That’s a good ratio.
Even the other games are very winnable. The Red Wings are struggling as of right now, the Canadiens are a hair better than a lottery team but are far from a playoff contender, and if the other games against the likes of Seattle, Calgary, and Nashville are all very winnable.
A record of, say, 10-3-1 in this stretch is not unfathomable, especially since they already got a monkey off their back with a win over the San Jose Sharks.
The Oilers love a good second-half charge and while we aren’t quite officially in the second half of the season, this team has a fantastic opportunity to start 2024 on the right foot. They can’t afford to fumble this.

QUICK THOUGHTS

Dec 28, 2023; San Jose, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan McLeod (71) andEdmonton Oilers defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) celebrate after the goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period at SAP Center at San Jose.
  • They should give Olivier Rodrigue a shot here soon. I totally understand wanting to get him as prepared as possible with a few more AHL starts, but considering the quality of their opponents in January, Rodrigue should make his NHL debut early in 2024.
  • I like giving him that start against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 23rd.
  • Ryan McLeod has snapped out of his cold streak in a big way. He’s scored on each of his last four shots on goal and is now up to six goals in 32 games, which works out to 15.37 goals over an 82-game season. He’s a big player to have producing. When he’s rolling, the bottom-six production isn’t nearly as big of a storyline.
  • Four goals on four shots is quite impressive, albeit unsustainable but it should tell McLeod one thing: good things happen when you throw pucks on net. He needs to start being a more selfish player.
  • It is remarkable how lucky the Oilers have been when it comes to health on their blueline. Nurse, Ceci, Kulak, Bouchard, and Ekholm have all avoided being out of the lineup for a long stretch at any point over the last 15 months. You never know when injuries will strike though and that’s why I think Ken Holland should be looking for a solid, veteran defenseman ahead of the trade deadline. We’ll talk more about that in the new year.

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