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

Welcome to Oil Acumen. All Oilers, all the time... Occasionally other stuff.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

11/29/11 Lander Should Not Have Remained in the NHL

Before all the Anton Lander fans out there decide they want to start putting anthrax in my pillowcase, it should be said that Lander is a good player and will be part of the future of the Oilers. It's just that the future isn't now.

The decision to keep Lander in the NHL even after Sam Gagner returned from injury has had far reaching effects on the team. Through no fault of his own (at least to begin with), Gagner was unable to slot into his natural position at center because the Oilers had four healthy ones already in RNH, Horcoff, Belanger and Lander. After coming off a season shortened by injury and having to start the season late because of one, Gagner was being unintentionally set up to fail. On a team deep in wingers, Gagner had no hope of breaking into the top six, and was playing out of position.

A lot of the rationale for keeping Lander was that he was playing well in his role, which is true. Anton Lander is a good hockey player and the penalty kill was performing admirably. As a matter of fact, the Oilers' penalty kill is 9th in the NHL at the moment, so the team must be doing something right. However, Lander is sitting down in 10th among the Oilers when it comes to PK ice time per game, and 5th among the forwards. The only other forward that averages more than a minute of PK time per game is Lennart Petrell, which means Lander is essentially the second-least active forward among the regular penalty killing forwards.

His faceoff ability is certainly no better than Gagner's either. He's 68 and 107 in the NHL this year, for a 38.8% total. Gagner is sitting at 48.5% after 66 draws.

Lander has put up 2 points in 23 games thus far, which means that he's on pace for just 7 points all year. His lack of offensive contribution has been part of the struggles of the bottom six to chip in some goals.

But it's hard to put up offensive numbers when you're not getting any ice time. Only Petrell, Eager and Hordichuk are averaging less ice time per game than Lander is. He's currently counted on for 11:08 of ice time per night, and 1:41 seconds of that is shorthanded. Much like Hartikainen, it would probably be better for Lander to have learned the pro game in the AHL by playing in all situations and lots of minutes each night.

Now that Taylor Hall is injured the Oilers are stuck keeping Lander in this situation (although he may now be injured as well), but it could have and should have been rectified a long time ago. Anton Lander played well enough in camp to earn an NHL spot and Gagner's injury sealed it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he should be in the NHL when the Oilers have other options. Jeff Petry was demoted so that his development wouldn't be stunted by lack of playing time, and that same path should be taken with the forwards when necessary.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

11/26/11 More Odds & Ends: Edmonton vs Calgary

Feaster's wager is looking more and more like a very bad bet as the days and games go by. The Oilers are now 9 points clear of Calgary in the standings, and they're breathing the rare air of playoff position. The last time the Oilers finished ahead of the Flames? That would be 8 years ago, in 2002-03.

Of course, 22 games does not a season make, but so far the trends seem to be clear. On this date last year Calgary was 9-11-2 with 20 points, which put them 5 points out of a playoff spot. They went 24-11-9 from January onward and still missed the post season by 3 points. It's not that their current 9 point deficit is insurmountable, but it's going to require even more from the Flames than they did last year. Is this team capable of that?

Jarome Iginla is a notoriously slow starter, but right now he's being outscored by Tom Gilbert and carrying a team-worst minus-11 rating. He had 18 points by this date last year (in 22 games), and had scored 9 times, while this season he's got a modest 6-4-10. Again, there's nothing saying that Iginla won't put his game together, but traditionally he's scoring by now.

He's not getting much help either. Alex Tanguay is leading the team with 15 points and Curtis Glencross is pacing them in goals with 7. The Oilers currently have five players with at least 7 goals, and all of those players have more points than Tanguay.

As a matter of fact, the Oilers have scored the third-most goals in the Western Conference to this point with 62; 17 clear of Calgary's output. It's rare that Oilers fans get to rub it in a little, so let's all enjoy it while we can.


While we're pumping the tires of the Oilers, let's look at a few other tidbits.

- Edmonton currently has the 5th-best powerplay in the NHL, which is clicking at a 22.2% clip. Last year's powerplay? 27th in the league with 14.5% efficiency.

- The penalty kill is 7th-best in the league, since it's killing 86% of opposing teams' opportunities with the man advantage. Last year the Oilers killed just 77% of the penalties they took and finished 29th in the NHL on the PK.

- Last year the Oilers were 21st in shots against per game; averaging 31.7 against each night. So far in 2011-12 they have improved to 12th in that regard, averaging 29.5.

It's not all roses though. The Oilers are averaging fewer shots per game than they did last season. So far they are 29th in the league with 25.7 shots per game, while last year they were 29th with 26.7 S/G.

The special teams are really what tell the tale of the season so far. Last year 8 of the top 10 teams on the powerplay ended up making the playoffs, as did 8 of the top 10 penalty killers. All three teams (Vancouver, Montreal, Tampa) that were top ten in both the PP and PK ended up making the playoffs, and two of them had deep playoff runs. Just sayin'.

- The Oilers were 6-12-4 after 22 games last year. They were on pace for 60 points and finished with 62. In 2009-10 the Oilers had a record of 9-10-3 after 22 games. They were on pace for 78 points and ended up with 62. The season before that they were on pace for 82 points and finished with 85. Pace is not an exact indicator of the eventual point total, but none of these teams were on pace for a playoff spot after 22 games and none of them made it.

There are dangers with this, though. Edmonton was 13-8-1 in 2006-07 after 22 games (101 point pace), but finished 6th-last in the league. Of course, that was when Ryan Smyth was traded away and the Oilers proceeded to lose 18 of their final 20 games (only one of those in OT). Before that they had a record of 30-26-6, which put them on pace of 87 points.

In other words, the rate your team is winning at after 22 games is a decent indicator of how their season will go; barring some crazy unforeseen circumstances, that is. If that holds true for this year, Oilers fans should be doing backflips with joy. There may not be playoffs in the future this season, but there probably will be meaningful games in April.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

11/23/11 Odds & Ends: Carle Rumor, Minnesota, Iginla, Rieder

This article is suggesting that the Philadelphia Flyers are going to be looking to move Matt Carle in the near future, and lists the Edmonton Oilers as one of the teams that might be interested. Ah, the rumor mill. How little sense you sometimes make.

Carle is set to become an Unrestricted Free Agent in the off season, which means that whichever team decides to add him will probably be a contender. If the Oilers are still in this spot in the standings before the deadline there's a possibility that the Edmonton will want to bolster the blueline, but Steve Tambellini said that he doesn't feel under pressure to make a deal for a defenseman despite his depleted group.

Nor should he. This defensive group has performed admirably under trying circumstances, and has earned a chance to run with this thing. If the Oilers decide that Carle is a player that they are interested in adding, they can always do it in the off season without having to give up an asset.

Having said that, the Oilers are perhaps one very good defenseman away from having their team finished. The hard part of building the forward battery is more or less done, and the way the defense has been playing suggests that it may be closer than any of us thought. For the sake of argument, let's assume the Oilers are able to sign Ryan Suter in the off season as a UFA. Next year's pairings would look something like this:

Suter - Whitney
Smid - Gilbert
Potter - Petry

Those are three quality pairings that could match up with just about any in the NHL, especially after Petry gets another year of experience under his belt. That still leaves Teubert, Chorney, Plante and eventually Fedun on the farm as callups.

Obviously there's no guarantee that the Oilers will pursue a player like Suter, let alone get him signed, but a top-pairing defenseman appears to be the final large piece of the puzzle.

With Calgary struggling to make up ground in the Western Conference and a playoff spot slipping away, the talk about trading RW Jarome Iginla has started up again in earnest. He's coming off a 43 goal, 86 point campaign last year but the market for Iginla in trade might be smaller than anyone thinks.

Every team in the NHL would love to have Iginla on their roster, but there are other things to take into consideration. A team must have the cap space to take on his $7 million cap hit, or be able to clear the space in a trade. The team must be a contender because that is the only kind of team that will give up assets to acquire him and the only kind of team Iginla is likely to waive his No Move Clause to go to. After the trade is said and done, Iginla must be a clear upgrade for the potential suitor, which limits the number and quality of roster players that are moved for him.

The Washington Capitals could move Semin to clear room for Iginla, but it would take more than a pending UFA to get a deal done. The Buffalo Sabres can clear out the cap space for Iggy, starting with moving Brad Boyes and his $4 million hit, but again the Sabres will need to greatly sweeten the pot. There aren't many contending teams that can take on Iginla's contract without doing a significant roster shakeup. Among those few teams are Chicago ($5.5M in space currently), Detroit ($5.3M), and perhaps the Minnesota Wild ($7.9M). Will one of those teams make a pitch for Iginla if he becomes available?

- While we're on the subject of the Minnesota Wild, it's worth noting how hot their start has been. In fact, they're on top of the Western Conference with 29 points. But, as we've already seen, sometimes hot starts can be a mirage. The Wild have scored the fewest goals of any team currently in playoff position in the West, and the 4th-fewest in the Conference. On the other hand, their 42 goals against is the best in the West and it's due in large part to the play of their goaltenders.

Before this season, Niklas Backstrom had a career Save Percentage of 0.917 and a 2.42 GAA. Before Wednesday night's game, his numbers were 0.935 SV% and a 1.97 GAA.

Josh Harding had a career SV% of 0.915 and a 2.66 GAA coming into this season, but before Wednesday he had a 0.945 SV% and 1.79 GAA this year.

Unless the 6th-lowest scoring team in the NHL can manage to find some offense, they will have a hard time stringing wins together when their goaltending comes back down to Earth. That will be good news for everyone in the Conference, and most particularly those in the Northwest Division. If only Edmonton could win against Minnesota.

- Everyone has a favorite prospect outside the NHL, and Tobias Rieder is slowly becoming one of mine. The 114th overall pick (Rd 4) in 2011 has had a fantastically hot start to this season. He's amassed 18-13-31 in just 23 games with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, after 23-26-49 in 65 games as a rookie. If he keeps it up he's on pace to score 51 goals in 65 games, and collect a total of 88 points. At just 5'10" and 165 pounds his prospects of having success beyond the NHL aren't great, but they will depend on his drive and willingness to do whatever it takes. Hockey's Future lists his compete level as an area of strength, so there's a chance he could end up as a late round gem from the Magnificent Bastard.

Monday, 21 November 2011

11/21/11 After the Quarter Pole

The Oilers have now played their 20th game of the year, and we are one quarter of the way through the season. Here are a bunch of notes and facts about the first twenty, and a comparison to the previous [horrible] seasons.

- The Oilers have scored 50 goals. After 20 games last year the Oilers had scored 49 goals.

- 47 pucks have gone past Oilers goaltenders this year, while last year at this time the Oilers had allowed a whopping 82 goals against. 

- Without that 9 goal outburst against Chicago the Oilers would actually be greatly below their goal output from last year. On the other hand, they have shown staggering improvement defensively over this time last year.

- In 2009-10 the Oilers had scored 58 and allowed 63 after 20 games.

- The Oilers have put 505 shots on goal this year (25.25 SF/G), and allowed 586 (29.3 SA/G)

- Edmonton sits in 10th place currently, which is the better than the previous two seasons after 20 games. The Oilers had won all of 5 games last year at this time, so 10 wins is like a revelation.

- Oilers' records after 20 in the years since the lockout:

2005-06: 10-9-1 (Stanley Cup Final)
2006-07: 11-8-1 (Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
2007-08: 7-12-1 (DNQ)
2008-09: 9-9-2 (DNQ)
2009-10: 8-10-2 (DNQ)
2010-11: 5-11-4 (You get the idea)

- Number of Western Conference teams that were outside the playoff picture on November 21 but ended up making the playoffs since the lockout:

2005-06: Anaheim, San Jose
2006-07: Calgary
2007-08: Calgary, Nashville
2008-09: St. Louis (14th in the West on this date, but made it), Columbus
2009-10: Vancouver, Nashville
2010-11: Nashville, Anaheim, San Jose

That's just 12 teams in six years that have made the post season after not being in on November 21. The good news for the currently 10th place Oilers is that there's at least one team each year that got in after being on the outside. The bad news is that only two outside teams make in per year on average, and Vancouver is all but guaranteed to be one of them this season.

- Points for Ryan Smyth this year: 20. After 20 games last season: 7-5-12

- Points for Taylor Hall this year: 14. After 20 games last season: 4-5-9

- Points for Jordan Eberle this year: 18. After 20 last season: 4-8-12

- Points for Shawn Horcoff this year: 12. After 20 last season: 7-7-14

- Points for Tom Gilbert this year: 10. After 20 last season: 3-2-5

- Points for Magnus Paajarvi this year: 1. After 20 last season: 2-4-6

- Points for Eric Belanger this year: 3. After 20 last season: 4-6-10

You win some, you lose some. Overall there's improvement everywhere. Plenty for beleaguered fans to be happy about.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

11/20/11 Duh, Winning

Did you see that? The Oilers beat  destroyed Chicago on Hockey Night in Canada. If ever there was a time to send a message to the whole of this hockey-crazed nation, it was Saturday against the best team going. Here are some notes from the game:

Told you he was going to be fine. Taylor Hall scored his second career hat trick faster than John Tavares, Steve Stamkos or Patrick Kane scored two. He's back on pace to score 27 goals and nobody would be shocked to see him score more than that. There's nothing like a hat trick to get people to stop worrying. After having a shooting percentage of just 7% coming in, 75% of Hall's 4 shots went in on this night.

- Theo Peckham responded from a minus-3 night against Ottawa by going plus-5 against Chicago in just 14:52 of work.

- Jeff Petry had a whale of a game with 3 assists and a plus-5 rating as well.

- Nugent-Hopkins is back on a point-per-game pace with 7-12-19 in 19 games. He tallied 5 assists in just 13:20 of ice time. It might be a tad premature to think that RNH could match or better Jari Kurri's 75 points in 75 games as a rookie, but nights like Saturday make it seem possible. If Nugent-Hopkins only scores a point every two games from now on, his 50 total points would make him the 5th-highest scoring Oilers rookie of all time. Sam Gagner currently holds that spot with 49 points, which is a note of caution. On the other hand, Gagner only had 9 points in his first 19 games as a rookie.

- Speaking of Sam Gagner, he was one of nine Oilers who went without a point on Saturday. Magnus Paajarvi was held without a point as well. Both of them looked more dangerous than they have recently, but it's time for them to start scoring.

- The Oilers now have five players on pace for 50 or more points, and four players on pace for 20 or more goals. If the season ends that way, it will be a vast improvement over last year. In 2010-11 the Oilers had one 20 goal scorer (Hall) and no players with 50 points.

- Edmonton is now just barely back inside the playoff cut line with 22 points. We all talk about wanting the team to play meaningful games in March, but the truth of the matter is that just playing meaningful games in December would be a nice change. The Oilers haven't had a winning record after 19 games since 2008-09.

- This was a good game to be at. Besides all of the goals and the electric atmosphere in the building, the best part of being there was the fans' chant of "We Want Ten" after the Oilers scored their ninth goal. For those who don't remember, the fans sarcastically chanted "We Want Ten" when the Oilers were down 9-2 against Buffalo back in 2009. The Sabres lit up Dwayne Roloson for 3 goals and Jeff Deslauriers for 7 on the way to a 10-2 drubbing. Chicago won 9-2 in Edmonton on December 16th of that same year, so there's a certain amount of symmetry to Saturday's game. This win, and that chant, were like seeing the Oilers turn the corner; even if it was just one night of many on the road back to respectability.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

11/16/11 Slump? What Slump?

Rumblings are beginning that Taylor Hall is slumping, and it's made worse because Tyler Seguin has been tearing it up over in Boston this year, with 20 points in 16 games. Did the Oilers pick the wrong man? In a word: nope.

First let's look at the stats:

Hall: 16 games played, 3-8-11, Even
Seguin: 16 games played, 11-9-20, plus-15

At first glance it appears that Seguin is tearing Hall a new one in the heads up comparison, but there are a few things to consider here. First of all, Tyler Seguin is scoring on 22.4% of the shots he's taken so far. That is a percentage that is simply not sustainable. Seguin has taken only 6 more shots than Taylor Hall, but he's scored 8 more goals.

Taylor Hall is scoring on just 7% of the shots he's taken so far and has 3 goals. Over their two short NHL careers, Hall has a shooting percentage of 10.9% and Seguin's is 12.2%. If they were each scoring at their career average percentage, Seguin would have six goals and Hall would have five.

It's also important to remember that Tyler Seguin is playing on a team that won the Stanley Cup last year and didn't have an enormous amount of turnover on the roster, but Taylor Hall is playing on a team that finished 30th with a center that has just 17 games of NHL experience. Nugent-Hopkins is a very good player, but he's still a raw rookie. Ironically, being a linemate of RNH has meant that Hall has been sheltered much more than he was last year, and his average ice time has suffered by a full minute per game.

Despite all that, Hall actually is doing better than last year. After 16 games last season Hall had accumulated 3-4-7, and a minus-7, while this year has has 3-8-11 and is an Even player. Even though he wasn't scoring a ton to start last year, he ended with 22 goals in 65 games. Last year he had three stretches of seven games without a goal and still his scoring was strong overall. This eight game drought is a minor blip.

Taylor Hall is going to be fine. Just saying.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

11/15/11 Who's Going to Miss the Playoffs?

Last time we looked at the teams that were in playoff position last year after 17 games, and who stayed there. Today we'll find out why teams that started in playoff position dropped out, and see if the same fate is likely to befall the Oilers.

Columbus: The Blue Jackets were off to their best start in franchise history last year at 11-6-0 after 17 games. In fact, they made it all the way to 14-6-0 in their first 20 before the wheels fell off on their season. So what happened?

In those first 20 games Steve Mason was merely average, posting a 0.902 save percentage and finishing the year with a save percentage of 0.901. No real anomalies there. However, his counterpart Mathieu Garon started that year with a 0.943 SV%, three shutouts in 7 games (plus one relief appearance), and a record of 6-1. His save percentage came back down to Earth in a big way after that, as he finished at 0.901 and with a record of 10-14.

After those first 20 games, Columbus proceeded to lose 5 straight and 14 of their next 20. The Jackets allowed 609 shots on goal in the first 20 games, and those shots resulted in 47 goals against (0.923 SV%). In the next 20 games Columbus allowed 608 shots on goal and they resulted in 70 goals against (0.885 SV%). But things didn't really get dismal until the end of February. Columbus managed just 3 wins in their last 22 games. Their goaltenders allowed 75 goals over span on 648 shots, for a 0.884 SV%. Only Colorado and Edmonton allowed more goals in the West that year.

St. Louis: The Blues were 12-5-3 in their first 20 games last year, but ended up finishing in 11th place in the West. It's much the same story as Columbus. Jaroslav Halak was 10-4-2 to start the year, with 3 shutouts. His save percentage was North of 0.920 ten times in those 16 games. In the entire rest of the year it was above 0.920 17 more times in 41 appearances, and it was sub-0.900 on 17 occasions as well. He won 17 games the rest of the year. Ty Conklin wasn't much relief, finishing with a 0.881 SV% and 3.22 GAA.

Dallas: An average team that nearly made it but fell out on the last day of the season. This team didn't exactly over achieve early on, and they finished about where they ought to have (9th). The fact that they were in the playoff picture early on and fell out was merely because the race was so tight.

Minnesota: Niklas Backstom's save percentage was above 0.930 in 9 of his first 14 starts, and above 0.920 in 11 of them. He had a record of 8-4-2 to start the year. Jose Theodore was 3-2-0 in his first 5 starts for Minny, posting an impressive 0.920 SV%. Both goalies finished the year with identical 0.916 save percentages and Minnesota missed the playoffs. The two would combine for 24 more wins in their next 60 starts.


There are certainly many other factors (injuries, trades, bad luck) that conspire to make a team miss the post season after being so good early on. However, hot goaltending has the uncanny ability to mask the other deficiencies that a team may have, and make that team appear better than it is. None of these goalies finished with abysmal save percentages by the end of the year, but all of these teams (save Dallas) had goaltenders that were playing well above their norm early in the season.

Interestingly, a marginal team like Nashville got into the playoffs on the back of a 0.929 save percentage from Pekka Rinne, and it was Jonas Hiller's 0.924 SV% that pushed Anaheim into the post season as much as anything else (50 goals from Corey Perry didn't hurt though). Phoenix probably didn't belong in the playoffs either, but Dave Tippet's systems and the 0.921 SV% of Ilya Bryzgalov got them through.

Not all playoff teams have great goaltending. Jimmy Howard's save percentage last year was a modest 0.908 and he won 37 games, but that's because Detroit has a very good team.

If the Oilers had average goaltending would they be where they are now? If the answer you're thinking is no, then that means Edmonton is very likely to miss the playoffs because this type of stellar goaltending isn't likely to continue. But these performances from Khabibulin represent a feel-good comeback story, so who cares if it's not sustainable? The Oilers are showing flashes of what they will be, and we all knew that was the best we could hope for coming in.

Monday, 14 November 2011

11/13/11 Who's Going To Make It?

The Edmonton Oilers have played 17 games this season and find themselves in playoff position. Here is a look at last season's standings after 17 games from all the teams in the West, and who ended up in an out of the playoffs.

The actual standings at the end of last year were as follows:

1) Vancouver
2) San Jose
3) Detroit
4) Anaheim
5) Nashville
6) Phoenix
7) Los Angeles
8) Chicago
9) Dallas
10) Calgary
11) St. Louis
12) Minnesota
13) Columbus
14) Colorado
15) Edmonton

However, after each team had played 17 games last year the standings would have looked something like this:

1) Detroit 12-3-2 -- 26 Points*
2) Los Angeles 12-5-0 -- 24 Points*
3) Vancouver 10-4-3 -- 23 Points*
4) Columbus 11-6-0 -- 22 Points
6) San Jose 9-5-3 -- 21 Points*
7) St. Louis 9-5-3 -- 21 Points
7) Dallas 10-7-0 -- 20 Points
8) Minnesota 9-6-2 -- 20 Points
9) Anaheim 9-7-1 -- 19 Points*
10) Colorado 9-7-1 -- 19 Points
11) Nashville 8-6-3 -- 19 Points*
12) Phoenix 7-5-5 -- 19 Points*
13) Chicago 8-8-1 -- 17 Points*
14) Calgary 7-10-0 -- 14 Points
15) Edmonton 4-10-3 -- 11 Points

What can we learn from this? The teams with an asterisk beside them made the playoffs. That means that only half the teams that were in playoff position after they had all played 17 games actually made the playoffs. Of the teams that were out of playoff position after 17 games, none made the playoffs if they were more than 3 points out. No team that was below .500 made the playoffs.

Columbus dropped the farthest, having gone 11-6-0 to start the season and earning 22 points (64.7 points percentage), but winning just 23-29-13 in their next 65 games (45.4 points percentage) and finishing in 13th place.

St. Louis's record was tied with that of San Jose, but the Sharks finished 18 points higher in the standings by year's end. Despite strong starts to the season, the Blues and Jackets were only 2 and 3 points ahead of the 9th place team respectively.

Below is a look at this year's standings so far. Which of these teams are likely to maintain their strong starts, and which teams will fall off?

We can be fairly certain that over the course of the season Los Angeles and Vancouver will make the post-season. That means that at least two teams that are currently in the top 8 have got to come out. If last year's trend continues, and no team that is more than 3 points out of the playoffs at this point makes them at the end, that means Calgary, Anaheim and Columbus are finished. That leaves 12 teams fighting for 8 spots, and we know that Chicago, Vancouver, Detroit, San Jose and Los Angeles are almost certain to make it. Therefore there are 7 teams going after 3 playoff spots.

Which teams will those be? And will the Oilers be among them? Edmonton's 20 points is good for fourth in the West right now, but the team is only 3 points removed from 12th. The good news is that the Oilers have made it much, much easier on themselves to make the playoffs this year than last, but there is still a lot of work to do.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

11/12/11 The Numbers Behind A Streak

The Oilers have lost 3 of their last 4 games now, following a whirlwind 6-game winning streak. Let's have a peek at some of the data from those two streaks and see which result is likely to continue. The numbers may surprise you, but they probably won't.

The Win Streak - Oct 22 to Nov 3

17 Goals For (2.8 GF Per Game)
6 Goals Against (1 GA Per Game)
2 Shutouts
144 Shots For (24 SF Per Game)
181 Shots Against (30 SA Per Game)
6 Powerplay Goals For on 27 Opportunities (22.2% PP)
2 Powerplay Goals Against on 21 Opportunities (90% PK)
Oilers goaltenders had a combined Save Percentage of 0.972

The numbers show the extent to which the Oilers got absolutely ridiculous goaltending. 97% of the shots that came to the Edmonton net were stopped over the win streak, and the Oilers were allowing a lot of them. The Oilers were scoring on 11.8% of the shots they took, which isn't an outlandish number. The problem is that they weren't shooting enough to win games if their netminders were only average. Here is a breakdown of who was scoring when the Oilers were winning:

RNH: 6 points, Hall: 5 points, Eberle: 7 points, Smyth: 7 points, Potter: 6 points. Those five players combined for 31 points in 6 games.

Horcoff, Barker, Gagner, Sutton, Petrell, Jones, Plante, Gilbert, Petry, Eager and Lander combined for 18 points.

The Last Four Games - Nov 5 to Nov 11

8 Goals For (2 GF Per Game)
14 Goals Against (3.5 GA Per Game)
0 Shutouts
94 Shots For (23.5 SF Per Game)
117 Shots Against (29.25 SA Per Game)
1 Powerplay Goal on 12 Opportunities (8.3% PP)
3 Powerplay Goals Against on 19 Opportunities (84% PK)
Oilers goaltenders had a combined Save Percentage of 0.880

In the last four games the Oilers have scored on just 8.5% of their shots. They are still averaging the same number of Shots For and Against as they were when they were winning, but now they aren't scoring as much and their opponents have scored more. The reality of the goaltending situation is probably somewhere between the highs we saw during the win streak and what we are seeing now, but the amount of rubber finding each net has been a constant.

Ryan Smyth has had 5 points in the last four games, but the rest of the team has been mostly silent. RNH, Eberle, Hall, Peckham, Belanger, Teubert, Horcoff, Paajarvi, Gilbert, and Hemsky have combined for just 14 points in these last four games.


It goes without saying that the Oilers' best offensive players have to be scoring if the team is going to have any hope of winning, and over the last four games they haven't been doing that. However, the shot totals and save percentage numbers continue to paint a picture of a team that is outmatched most nights. Over an 82 game schedule, it's likely that these numbers will catch up with the Oilers unless they can learn to turn them around on the fly. There is plenty more to like about this team than any other incarnation since the '06 Stanley Cup Run, but the road ahead could be a bumpy one.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

11/09/11 Comparing Two Unlikely Starts

In 2009-10 the Colorado Avalanche were the toast of the NHL during the first segment of the season. After finishing 28th in the league the season before, Colorado managed to put an unlikely run together that ended with a playoff spot in the spring of 2010. Can the Oilers do the same?

That year Colorado was 10-2-2 by the 14-game mark. That's not at all dissimilar to the Oilers' record of 9-3-2. Like the Oilers this year, Colorado's success in 2009-10 hinged on the play of their goaltender. Craig Anderson was responsible for all ten of the team's wins by game number fourteen. Anderson started every one of Colorado's first 14 games that year, facing 477 shots over that span and stopping all but 29 of them. That's a 0.940 SV% to start the season, but Anderson would end the year with a save percentage of 0.917.

Colorado was outshot eleven times in their first 14 games, but managed to boast an 8-2-1 record in games in which they were outshot, obviously owing very much to the play of Anderson. The Oilers have been outshot only 7 times this year, but have a record of 4-2-1 when being outshot.

A healthy Paul Stastny lead the way in scoring for the Av's, registering 20-59-79 in 80 games after just 11-25-36 in 45 games the year before. Chris Stewart emerged as a legitimate scoring threat, posting 28-36-64 in 77 games after a rookie season of 11-8-19 in 53 games the previous year. And, perhaps most important of all, new addition Matt Duchene had 24-31-55 in 81 games.

So far the Oilers have 4 players on pace for 56 or more points: Taylor Hall (on pace for 56), Jordan Eberle (64), Nugent-Hopkins (70) and Ryan Smyth (82). Obviously not all of these players will reach these totals, but a player like Ales Hemsky has a chance to pick up some of the slack if he stays healthy for any length of time.

Colorado went 33-28-7 after their first 14 games, which is merely an average record. Once Anderson cooled off the team was nowhere near as effective, but they still finished 13 games over .500. Ten of those wins came in the first 14 games, and they were instrumental in that team making the playoffs by just 5 points.

The Oilers have had similarly hot goaltending to start the season and they [should] have the offensive firepower to make up for a dropoff from Khabibulin and Dubnyk. Peter Budaj had almost identical numbers to Anderson by the end of 2009-10, and the Oilers should be able to enjoy something similar with their netminders. Like Colorado, the Oilers are banking points early that could make a huge difference in April.

If the Oilers were to go 33-28-7 the rest of the way, they will have amassed 93 points. It wouldn't have been enough for a playoff berth last year, but it certainly would have had them in the conversation. But the fact is that even if Edmonton is .500 for the rest of the season (something like 30-30-8), their 88 points would make for a 26-point improvement over last year. That would be a tremendous leap forward and a make for a wildly successful campaign.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

11/06/11 How's Everybody Doing?

Despite a loss on Saturday, we all know how well the Oilers' players have been doing. But what about the players on the farm? And what about the ones that have left or that the team has recently traded away?

Linus Omark: Omark has collected 4 assists in 2 games since being assigned to OKC, and is an Even player. Once again an assignment to Oklahoma City has lit a fire under this player and so far he seems determined to get back to the NHL.

Philippe Cornet: The Oilers' 5th rounder in 2008 was a strong scoring threat in the QMJHL but failed to translate his production to the American Hockey League during his rookie season last year. As a rookie he managed 7-16-23 in 60 games in OKC, but this year he's already got 8-1-9 in 10 games and seems to be figuring it out. If he ends up as a quality AHL player he'll still be a good selection in the 5th round.

Gilbert Brule: The center has put up 4-2-6 in 8 games on the farm and is a minus-3. These numbers would be respectable in the NHL, but Brule will need to do better if he wants to get back there as an Oiler.

Teemu Hartikainen: Four goals and 7 points in the first ten games as well as a plus-2 rating. Hartikainen had 0.64 points per game in the AHL last season and 0.70 points per game so far this season. His numbers are good, but he's going to have some work to do to get to the NHL ahead of Omark. Either that, or he'll have to hope for a load of injuries with the big club.

Curtis Hamilton: In his first pro season, the Oilers' 48th overall pick in 2010 has put up just 2 assists in 7 AHL games and is a plus-1, following an 82 point, 62 game campaign in the WHL last year. Cornet has showed that one cannot panic too much about the play of an AHL rookie, and Hamilton still has the tools to be a solid two-way NHL player if the offense fails to come.

Tyler Pitlick: 1-2-3 in 9 games with OKC so far, along with an Even rating. Another player that seems to need some time to learn the pro game, but who showed plenty of potential.

Martin Marincin: After coming out of the gate on fire last year, Marincin slowed down in the second half but still ended the season with 14-42-56 in 65 games with Prince George of the WHL. This season Marincin has 1-7-8 in 12 games and is a plus-3, while last year he finished as a minus-12. 0.81 points per game in the WHL so far in his career.

Martin Gernat: 6-12-18, plus-8 in 16 games for the Oil Kings. Gernat's start in the WHL has been similar to fellow-Slovak Marincin. It will be interesting to see how his production fares as the season drags on.

Tobias Rieder: The 114th overall pick (4th round) in 2011 has put up 9-9-18 in 15 games for the Kitchener Rangers. Not bad for a later pick.

Tyler Bunz: 12-4-0 record with Medicine Hat this season, along with a 2.36 GAA and 0.928 SV%. Bunz has established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the WHL and is putting up the best numbers of his career.

Frans Tuohimaa: 4-0-1 with Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League. He's sporting a snazzy 2.16 GAA and 0.918 SV%.

Olivier Roy: Former Canadian World Junior starter has gone 0-3-2 with Stockton so far, but with a respectable 2.35 GAA and 0.914 SV%.

David Musil: Never pegged as an offensive-defenseman, Musil has still developed his offensive game in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants. He's posted 1-9-10 in 18 games so far, while last year he had 25 points in 62 games. More importantly, Musil is a plus-7 on a fairly average Giants team, after finishing Even last year.

Ryan Martindale: Martindale has just one assist in his first 7 games with the Stockton Thunder and is a minus-1. Martindale has good offensive tools but the 61st overall pick in 2010 has work to do to get to the big show.

Andrew Cogliano with the Ducks

Andrew Cogliano: 1-1-2 in 13 games so far with Anaheim. He's a plus-4 but so far his offense hasn't shown much more life than it did in Edmonton. Still working to justify his $2.39 million cap hit.

Zack Stortini: Has only played in one game with the Predators this season, registering 7 PIMs. Has one goal in 8 games with the Milwaukee Admirals.

J.F. Jacques: Posted 3-3-6 in six games with Syracuse of the AHL. Lower levels of competition have always been kind to Jacques, who once had 27 points in 29 games with Wilkes-Barre, but 0 points in 37 NHL games that same year.

Riley Nash: Oilers' 21st overall pick in 2007 (later traded to Carolina for the pick that became Marincin) has 1-2-3 in 11 games for the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.

Rob Schremp: 6-7-13 in 20 Swedish Elite League games. Schremp has 20-34-54 in 114 NHL games with the Oilers, Islanders and Thrashers, but couldn't find NHL employment this off season. He's minus-23 in his career, which probably has a lot to do with it.

Liam Reddox: 6-5-11 in 20 SEL games and a minus-7 rating.

Marc-Antoine Pouliot: The man who shall forever be known as Not-Zach-Parise has 1-2-3 in 4 games with Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate in Portland. 53 points in 173 NHL games, while Parise has 349 in 432. If you don't know the history, the Oilers traded the 17th overall pick in 2003 (Parise) to New Jersey for the 22nd overall pick (Pouliot) and the 68th overall pick (J.F. Jacques).

Jeff Deslauriers: 3-2-0 with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. JDD has posted a 4.40 GAA and 0.862 SV%, which is making the Oilers look very right to have let him go.

Brad Winchester: 13 penalty minutes in 12 games with the Sharks and one assist to go with it.

Alexei Mikhnov: 5-4-9 in 18 KHL games this year and a plus-3 rating. Mikhnov spent the last 4 seasons with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, but left in the off season before the tragic plane crash.

Jani Rita: The 30-year old has 10 goals and 14 points in 19 games with Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League this year. Rita has played the last six seasons in Helsinki, posting 146 points in 236 games; including a career-high 32 goals and 52 points in 56 games back in 2006-07.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

11/04/11 Quick Hits on a Win

Here are some quick facts about Thursday's win against the Kings:

- Last year the Oilers got their 8th win on December 1st against Montreal, which was in the team's 24th game of that season.

- The Oilers improved to 8-8-1 in their 17th game of 2009-10 on November 8th of that season.

- This is Edmonton's best start since the 2001-02 season, when the Oilers came out of the gate 8-4-1. That year they finished in 9th place in the West.

- One more game without a point will match Magnus Paajarvi's career high for futility. Last season he went 13 games without a point from November 7th to the 29th, but finished the year with 34 points. That either means that we shouldn't hit the panic button yet, or that there are some serious questions about Paajarvi's offensive capability.

- Only Shawn Horcoff is averaging more ice time per game among the forwards than 35 year old Ryan Smyth. Smyth's addition to this team cannot possibly be overstated, and hopefully he has a few more good seasons in him.

- Speaking of Shawn Horcoff, it's nice to have a captain that can play a regular shift. Ethan Moreau averaged only 14:24 of ice time per game in his last year in Edmonton, while Horcoff is averaging 21:04 and plays in every situation.

- Thank heavens that the Oilers didn't give up on Ladislav Smid. He wanted to be a top-4 defenseman and he's showing that he is all that and more.

- The Oilers are turning around the frightening trend that was creeping up on them in the games against Washington, Colorado and Vancouver. After being outshot 60 to 113 in those three games, the Oilers were tied in shots with St. Louis at 30 and outshot their opponent on Thursday for the first time since doing it to the Rangers back on October 22nd.

- Edmonton has allowed 20 or fewer shots 3 times in the first 12 games, and 30 or fewer in 6 of the first 12.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

11/02/11 Adjusting Success by Save Percentage

It's time to make an honest appraisal of the Oilers' goaltending to this point and discuss how much it really has to do with the team's success. Khabibulin and Dubnyk have been great, but these two puckstoppers can't possibly keep it up. Will the fortunes of the Oilers follow suit?

Let's start with Khabibulin. So far this season he's faced 199 shots and he's stopped all but 8 of them. That's good for a 0.960 Save Percentage, which is an incredible number. However, over the course of his career Khabibulin has averaged a SV% of 0.908, which is a fairly pedestrian number. We can expect his play to drop off at some point if only because of fatigue, and he'll probably end the season closer to his career average when it comes to the percentage of shots he stops. At 0.908, Khabibulin would have allowed around 18 goals in these first seven games, which is more than double what he has actually allowed so far this year.

Even if Khabibulin was stopping shots at his best sustained rate over a full season (0.923 SV% in 63 games in 1998-99), he'd still have allowed somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 goals so far.

What that means is that at best the Oilers have allowed 7 fewer goals than they should have thus far, and at worst they have allowed 10 fewer. That would make for team totals no better than 25 Goals For and 25 Goals Against, and probably closer to 25 GF and 28 GA.

And Dubnyk? Devan Dubnyk has a career SV% of 0.909, but this season he's flying high at 0.938, having allowed 8 goals on 129 shots. If he was closer to his career total SV%, Dubnyk would have allowed 12 goals in his 4 starts. Last year, Dubnyk had a SV% of 0.916 over 35 games, which is a respectable and sustainable total. With that type of efficiency he would have allowed around 11 goals this year. Of course, Dubnyk does have the potential to improve, but a 0.938 SV% over a whole season would put him in the conversation for the Vezina, and it's unlikely that he'll be able to maintain that kind of performance.

With these adjusted numbers taken together, the Oilers probably should have allowed 14 more goals than they have this season, if their netminders were playing at the level of their career average. That means they would still have 25 GF, but they would have allowed 32 GA (including game winning shootout tallies). It's pretty obvious that the Oilers' record would be significantly worse than 7-2-2 with numbers like that. This early win streak has been fun, and it's shown a glimpse into the future, but the future may still be far off unless the team can make more strides in a hurry.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

11/02/11 Where Will Omark Land?

Lowetide wrote an interesting article on OilersNation on Tuesday discussing the possible destinations for Linus Omark other than Edmonton. Both he and Jim Matheson mention the Carolina Hurricanes, but there is no way to know what that team would be willing to give up. So what would the Oilers want?

This article claims that the Hurricanes would be willing to part with a defenseman to acquire a forward. Before the season began Oilers fans were champing at the bit for an experienced rearguard, but now things have changed. Even with Whitney out the team's defense has been stout as any in the league. Still, there is always room to improve the backend, even if it simply means that the Oilers can bring their home grown defensive talent along more slowly.

Jamie McBain is probably the best target for the Oilers among Hurricanes players. The 23 year old has posted 43 points in 98 career NHL games, and is a minus-4 in that time. McBain is young enough to fit into the long term plan in Edmonton and he brings an offensive element to the blueline that was not overly abundant before Corey Potter started setting the world on fire. McBain is good insurance against a dropoff or injury from Potter, and would add some offensive depth to the defense. He is also a right-handed shot.

Further, the Hurricanes would be able to replace McBain immediately with Justin Faulk, who is also an offensive-minded defenseman. Faulk has collected 1-4-5 in 6 AHL games so far this season. In the long term, Carolina has Ryan Murphy in the fold, who amassed 26-53-79 in 63 OHL games last year before going 12th overall in the 2011 Draft.

If, during his return trip to the AHL, Linus Omark can put up numbers that are anywhere close to the 14-17-31 he posted in 28 games with OKC last year, he will once again be a hot commodity. He could be valuable enough to be used to acquire something decent, and with Hemsky and Hartikainen in the picture he'll almost certainly have to be dealt at some point.