a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Thursday, 27 October 2011

10/28/11 Measuring Stick

By the narrowest of margins, the Oilers scored a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night. Back in July in the "Comparing Rebuilds" series, this blog called the Capitals the closest comparison to the Oilers among teams that have built through the draft. Ovechkin's team, then, truly is a measuring stick for the progression of these young Oilers.

Some notes from the game:

The Oilers were outshot 35 to 19 in this game, but the scoring chances were much closer at 13-18 in favor of the Caps. If the Oilers had lost this game nobody would have been greatly disappointed, especially considering that Washington is the best team in the league. The fact that the Oilers were able to keep this thing even reasonably close is a testament to their improvement.

However, it's also a testament to the amount of penalties that Washington took. When Taylor Hall is allowed 7:02 on the powerplay, most of the time he's going to make something happen with that ice. Eberle had 6:54 and Nugent-Hopkins had 6:16 on the powerplay. Corey Potter spent 6:04 on the ice with the man advantage and took advantage with 2 assists. Potter has had a fantastic start, now having collected 6 points in 7 games.

And let's not forget Khabibulin, who continues to roll along with a 0.97 GAA and 0.964 SV%. If it weren't for back-to-back games, Devan Dubnyk would have a hard time getting into the net. Who would have thought that it would be Dubnyk who would have to showcase himself this season?

- Hall, Eberle and RNH bled chances against badly at 5v5, but their effectiveness on the powerplay makes up for it. It's no wonder that Renney has been starting those three in the offensive zone more than 60% of the time. They got hemmed in by the Caps on several occasions, but Hall and Nugent-Hopkins managed some game saving shot blocks near the end.

- Nugent-Hopkins continues to be on a point-per-game pace. One key difference between him and Taylor Hall was that Hall came into the NHL on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Jordan Eberle. Horcoff is a good player, but he's no offensive dynamo; while Eberle too was a rookie. Nugent-Hopkins' linemates are both experienced NHLers who perfectly complement his skill set. Also, Hall had to play behind Dustin Penner on the depth chart, while RNH has been the Oilers' best option at center from the get-go. That's not to take anything away from Nugent-Hopkins' many obvious talents, but he is coming into a better situation than his counterpart Hall did last year.

- It's early, but Taylor Hall is on pace for exactly 30 goals. He's also on pace to rifle 263 shots on goal over 81 games. That total would have been the 21st-highest in the entire NHL last year. He has yet to go a game without registering a shot, and he's had at least 3 in six of the eight games he's appeared in.

- Speaking of shooters, Jordan Eberle has had a shot in every game this year as well, and at least 3 shots in six of the nine games he's played.

- Alex Ovechkin had 7 shots on goal in this game, but Khabibulin was equal to the task. The final one that rang off the crossbar would have changed this game, but the Oilers got the bounce. That's payback for the one that went in for Heatley. The Oilers will still have four chances to beat the Wild this year, but beating Ovechkin & Co. to end their 7-game win streak is much sweeter. Many fans would take that trade in bounces.

Despite the fact that the Oilers have been outshot in their last two games by a wide margin, Edmonton actually out-chanced Vancouver 18-15 on Tuesday and kept the scoring chances close against Washington. Thursday's result could just as easily have gone the other way, but the Oilers probably deserved the win against the Canucks. Fantastic goaltending has helped a great deal, but the Oilers don't look significantly worse than their record. In a seven game series against Washington the Oilers wouldn't stand a chance, which is a measure of how far they still have to go. However, there are signs of marked improvement that - so far - don't seem to be abating.

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