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

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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.

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