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Winning is Hard, Regardless of the Opponent

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
4 months ago
Winning consistently in any professional sport is difficult. The adage, “never look a gift horse in the mouth,” is fitting, because regardless of how a team wins, if they are winning consistently, it is much better than the alternative.
Of course, some people will try to find negatives or weaknesses when a team wins. In hockey, we hear, “shooting percentage isn’t sustainable,” “his save percentage is unsustainable,” or “they rely on their power play too much.” It happens, but the great part about statistics and data is you can look for strengths as often as you can search for weaknesses.
Some Oilers fans are upset because certain people have tried to downplay the Oilers’ 16-game winning streak. Why worry about them? Of course, opposing fans will look for ways to downplay it. That is what makes sports fun, and it is part of fandom. I expect it from fans, but if you see pundits trying to downplay it and use weak excuses like, “They have had an easy schedule,” then they are likely exposing themselves as looking for a hot take, rather than doing any research.
Have the Oilers had an easier schedule than normal? Yes. That isn’t really a debate. They only played 11 games in January, so they were well-rested for each. They played games on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They also faced some weaker teams like Chicago, Columbus, Anaheim etc.
However, just because you are rested and face a team lower in the standings doesn’t guarantee success. Far from it.
Edmonton took advantage of its January schedule and won all 11 games. It is impressive, regardless of who and when they played. It is only the third time in NHL history a team won all its games in one month.
But when you dig deeper into the Oilers’ success, it is more than 11 games in January.
Edmonton is 24-3 in its last 27 games.
They actually played the fewest games in that span, but still have the most wins with 24. The next closest are Vancouver and Colorado, with 20 wins in 29 and 31 games, respectively. The Oilers have an .889 points percentage in their last 27 games. Vancouver is second with .759 followed by Winnipeg (.707), Colorado (.694) and Florida (.683).
During this stretch, the Oilers lead the NHL with 3.89 goals for per game. They are second in goals against per game at a stellar 1.93 (Winnipeg is first at 1.83, while Florida is third at 2.47). Edmonton and Winnipeg are allowing over half a GA/GP less than every team in the NHL.
The Oilers are fourth in 5×5 GF/GP at 2.55 and second in 5×5 GA/GP at 1.48. Their 5×5 GF-GA differential is +1.07, which is the best in the NHL.
The Oilers’ power play is second-best at 31.2 percent. Their penalty kill is first at 90.2 percent.
They rank second in goaltending stats. Stuart Skinner has a .935 save percentage, only Connor Hellebuyck is better at .940. They are tied with the lowest GAA at 1.76. Both have made 21 starts and both have allowed 37 goals. Hellebuyck has faced 49 more shots.
You can look at offence, defence, goaltending, 5×5 play and special teams, and there is nothing that stands out as a glaring weakness.

Jan 25, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman (18) tries to deflect a shot on Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek (34) during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

QUALITY OF OPPOSITION…

As outlined above, Edmonton hasn’t faced an endless run of top teams in the NHL, but no team does that at any point of the season. What the Oilers have done is win 16 games in a row and 24 of their last 27. You don’t do that by fluke.
The Oilers are 4-1 v. top-10 teams. They are 9-2 v. teams ranked 11th to 22nd in the standings. Five of those wins came against teams currently in a playoff spot and the other four came against teams still in the playoff hunt. They lost to Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders.
They are 11-0 v. the bottom-10 teams in the NHL. If any Oilers fans suggest the Oilers still struggle v. weaker teams, kindly tell them this isn’t 2017-2021.
The Oilers are 13-3 v. playoff teams or teams within four points of a playoff spot and 11-0 v. the weaker squads.
Let’s look at the teams ranked in the top-10 in the NHL and see how they fared in the same time span.
TEAM1st-10th11th-22nd23rd-32nd
VAN3-1-18-3-19-1-2
BOS2-3-39-2-26-3-1
WPG5-35-3-19-1-2
COL3-48-2-29-2-1
FLA6-29-4-24-2-1
DAL2-2-19-5-27-2-1
EDM4-19-211-0
NYR2-69-56-2-2
VGK5-4-17-4-23-3-1
CAR3-39-3-55-2
Edmonton has the best winning percentage against top-1o teams at 80 percent, although Florida is at 75 percent and has played three more games vs top-10 teams. The Oilers have the best winning percentage against teams ranked 11th-22nd and are undefeated v. the weakest 10 teams.
Edmonton has had some favourable matchups, but they won all 11 of them. Trying to downplay it illustrates a lack of understanding that good teams don’t win all their games against weaker teams. Last year, when Boston set the NHL record with 65 wins and only 12 regulation losses, four of those losses came against bottom-10 teams. Even the best regular season team in NHL history didn’t win every game v. the weaklings of the NHL.
The Oilers have the best record in the NHL since November 1st, but over their last 27 games, they’ve been noticeably better than every other team. They are beating the top teams, teams competing for playoff spots and those already looking at the draft lottery.
How long will it last? I have no clue, but remember, if the Oilers “only” win 18 of their next 27 games, that will give them a .667 winning percentage, which would have been second most among teams during their previous 27 games. Only Vancouver had more with 19 in their last 27.
Edmonton actually has the best points percentage in the NHL since November 1st at .730 percent, and that is despite them losing their first four games in November. Their recent 16-game winning streak has highlighted how well they’ve played recently, but they have been really dominant for the past two and a half months.
Regardless of who, when or where they play, when they resume their season next week, it would be odd if they didn’t continue playing well. They are very good, bordering on great, and great teams find ways to win consistently — just like the Oilers have for the past 70 days.

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