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

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

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

05/14/12 Why Both Special Teams Improved and the Overall Record Didn't

The Oilers' powerplay finished ahead of 13 playoff teams, and their penalty kill was better than that of 7 teams in the playoffs. How the heck did the Oilers finish 29th?

Let's start with the goaltending.

Devan Dubnyk was solid at even strength, finishing with the 26th-best even strength save percentage in the NHL at 0.927. Unfortunately for Oilers fans, Dubnyk only started 42 games. The other option in goal, Nikolai Khabibulin, started 40 games and had an even strength save percentage of 0.913, which was 58th in the league. Of goalies who started at least 30 games, only six were worse. That's a little better than last year when Khabibulin had a 0.905 Sv% at even strength, but it's still not good enough for the team to compete.

Goals Against

The Oilers allowed a total of 232 goals against, which was 23rd in the NHL.

They were 20th in 5x5 goals against, allowing 153. Only three playoff teams (Chicago, Pittsburgh and Ottawa) allowed more goals at even strength, and each went out in the first round.

Although the penalty kill improved in percentage, the Oilers were still tied for 7th-most 4x5 goals against with 47. That's because they were shorthanded 296 times in 2011-12, which was the 5th-highest total in the league.

All that resulted in the Oilers winning just 57.5% of the games in which they scored first, which was 25th in the NHL.

Goals For

207 Goals For placed the Oilers 19th in the NHL, and they were 22nd in the league in 5x5 goals with 139.

Top special teams contributor Shawn Horcoff had just 21 points at even strength, largely because of the difficult assignments he faced. Eric Belanger was very important to the improvement of the penalty kill, but he added just ten points at even strength, and his point total plummeted from forty in 2010-11 to just sixteen in 2011-12. Ales Hemsky had a down year, posting his lowest point total (with at least 40 games played) since his sophomore season in 2003-04.

26% of Edmonton's total offense came on the powerplay, so without the man advantage they had a fairly tough time scoring. It's impossible to know what the Oilers could have done with more powerplay opportunities, but as it was they were 19th in the league with 262 chances.

That trouble scoring came back to haunt them numerous times in 2011-12. The Oilers won just 37.5% of their one-goal games, which was 26th in the league.


Improving the special teams is easier than improving the team as a whole because each discipline has certain defined requirements. The Oilers added players that can help with the powerplay and penalty kill, but many of them are either too young or too old to be elite at even strength. Considering the fact that the majority of a hockey game is played 5x5, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the special teams improved and the team as a whole did not.

The good news for the Oilers is that many of their most important players will get better and more experienced at even strength as time goes on. Will that happen next season, or the year after that, or even further down the road?

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