The Colorado Avalanche were the only team in the division to lose the season series to the Oilers in 2011-12. Things certainly have changed between these two rivals. How did the Oilers pull off their series win, and will it continue?
Despite a final shot tally of 19-41 in the Avs' favor, Devan Dubnyk and the Oilers went on to win the first game of the series by a score of 3-1. Cam Barker scored a beauty backhand-shelf goal in this game, which was really his only flash of brilliance all year long. Ironically, the Oilers outshot Colorado in game two but fell by a score of 5-2. The Oilers would outshoot the Avs again in game three, and this time they got the result they wanted with a 4-1 win. On January 31st Devan Dubnyk stole the Oilers another win in game four, stopping 31 of 33 shots and his teammates managed to build a 3-1 lead and hung on for a 3-2 victory. Philippe Cornet got his first ever NHL assist in this game. Game five went on February 17th and the Oilers lost 3-1. Then in the final game of the year, Taylor Hall tied things up at two with under five minutes to play, but the Avs would need just two shooters to seal the deal in the shootout.
Oilers: 15 --- Avalanche: 14
Both teams had questionable defense groups and sometimes spotty goaltending, but it's not as though these games were scoring frenzies. In the end the goal margin is close, which makes sense given the record between the two teams. (Note: one of Colorado's goals went into an empty net.) The Oilers just barely came out on top, and they'll need to build on that success next season.
Shots on Goal
Oilers: 167 -- Avalanche: 187
The Oilers averaged just 27.8 shots on goal per game and allowed an average of 31.2 against. For some context, over the whole season the Oilers averaged 26.7 shots for per game, and 30.7 shots against. So they were slightly better in both categories against the Avs than they were on the whole, but it still isn't good enough. On the other hand, the Oilers outshot Colorado in three of the six games. The problem was that when Edmonton got outshot, they got outshot big. In the three games in which Colorado held the shot edge, the final tallies were 19-41, 23-33, and 30-32 for a difference of minus-34. In the games where the Oilers outshot the Avs, the difference was +14.
Overall Save Percentage (without EN)
Oilers: 0.930 -- Avalanche: 0.910
Unlike the series against the Minnesota Wild, this time the Oilers got a series win out of controlling the overall save percentage battle. Dubnyk started four of the six games and Khabibulin was in goal for two of them. Their records in the series were 2-2-0 and 1-0-1 respectively. It may seem like the Oilers should never lose a game when they're getting 0.930 Sv% goaltending, but keep in mind that this is a statistic over the entire series. Dubnyk was brilliant at times, and he also showed weakness. In the two games he lost, his save percentage was 0.863 (without an empty net goal).
Oilers: 4/20 (20%) --- Avalanche: 3/18 (16.6%)
What Oilers fans saw their team do on the powerplay against Colorado was pretty much a reflection of their effectiveness with the extra man all year long. On the season the Oil scored on 20.6% of their powerplay opportunities, which was third-best in the league. The Avs, on the other hand, went slightly cold against the Oilers. They had the ninth-best powerplay in the NHL this past season, which scored 18.4% of the time. This disparity was felt most acutely on December 9th, a game in which the Oilers scored two PP goals on five chances and the Avs went 0-for-3. The game was a 4-1 win for Edmonton.
Oilers: 15/18 (83.4%) -- Avalanche: 16/20 (80%)
When we flip the powerplay stats, it's apparent that the Oilers were one percent better killing penalties against Colorado than they were all year and the Avs were 3% worse. For some context, if each team had killed penalties at this rate over a whole year then Edmonton would have finished 12th on the PK instead of 14th and Colorado would have finished 25th instead of 12th. In the battle of special teams, the Oilers' lethality with the extra man overcame a very good penalty killing team.
Aside from the addition of PA Parenteau up front and elder statesman Greg Zanon on the back end, this figures to be a very similar Avalanche team in 2012-13. They'll be hoping that the maturation of Landeskog and Duchene will help to push them over the top and into the playoffs. The Hockey News certainly doesn't think they've done enough, pegging them to finish 14th in the West, one spot behind the Oilers.
Though strong up the middle, the Avs are still a beatable team and the Oilers will need to do a lot of that if they hope to advance up the Conference standings. The Oilers have an answer for every one of the Avs' big guns except Stastny and possibly Erik Johnson, depending on how he and some Oilers defenders turn out. On the whole, Colorado's defense is shaky and Semyon Varlamov is unproven. Edmonton's offensive players could have a feeding frenzy against this division rival. If so, they'll be headed for another season series win.