After 18 games last season the Oilers were 4-12-2, last in the West, having scored 44 goals while they allowed 70. How are things looking now?
Well, they've scored 44 goals, so no change there. On the other hand, they've only allowed 59. The goal differential has improved from minus-26 to minus-15 after the eighteen game mark. On the fancystats side, the Oilers are getting 50.6% of the shot attempts, which is pretty middling - and therefore a meteoric rise from years past. There are still some major red flags, though.
Here is a table comparing the Oilers' current underlying numbers with the whole of last season:
|2.43 Goals Per Game||2.44 Goals Per Game|
|3.26 Goals Against Per Game||3.28 Goals Against Per Game|
|0.71 5x5 Goals For/Against Ratio||0.68 5x5 Goals For/Against Ratio|
|44.3% Corsi For Percentage||50.6% Corsi For Percentage|
|91.34 Even Strength Save Percentage||90.07 Even Strength Save Pecentage|
|17% Powerplay||13.8% Powerplay|
|82.1% Penalty Kill||81.2% Penalty Kill|
So we're looking at roughly the same team overall, except when it comes to shot attempts (Corsi), which of course is a proxy for puck possession. All of these numbers match up pretty well with what I've seen by eye: the team is somewhat improved in their control of the puck, but it has yet to translate into results.
Part of the problem has been the goaltending. NHL average save percentage this season is 0.914, but the Oilers aren't close to that. Scrivens and Fasth are both sub-0.900 goalies right now. At even strength, Edmonton's 90.07 save percentage ranks 28th in the league, which is a major contributor to my biggest concern:
I've bolded the year-over-year Goals For/Against Ratio at even strength because that number is so telling. Last season, every playoff team except Philadelphia (17th) was in the top sixteen in the league in this statistic. Only the Coyotes, who finished ninth in the West, were inside that upper echelon without making the dance. The Oilers are currently 28th in 5x5 Goals For/Against, and they were 29th last year. Until this team shows marked improvement at even strength, they'll continue to struggle.
Justin Schultz and Andrew Ference were ranked #1 and #2 on the Oilers last year in Even Strength TOI Per Game, and their numbers are almost identical this season, despite the additions of Fayne and Nikitin, as well as the emergence of Marincin.
The lack of a middle-rotation center (or two) has handcuffed the team as well. At 5x5, Mark Arcobello and Leon Draisaitl start in the offensive zone 73.3% and 83.6% of the time respectively, and haven't exactly set the world on fire despite middling competition at best. Those zone starts are indicative of highly sheltered players, and in Draisaitl's case a player who is barely used at all, with just 12:13 total ice time per game. If Nugent-Hopkins or Boyd Gordon aren't out there at even strength, the Oilers are getting killed up the middle.
David Perron has been the winger most saddled with Arcobello and Draisaitl as his center, which likely has something to do with his disappointing nine points in 18 games thus far. The roster simply can't support three competent lines.
So how do you measure improvement? Is this it? They're two wins better than this time last year, but still last in the West. One thing's for sure: Taylor Hall's contract expires after 2019-20, which means that this season could mark the half-way-point of his time in Edmonton. Given that reality, this is nowhere near good enough.