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.