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

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Sunday, 13 December 2015

12/13/15 Points: Can They Make It?

The Edmonton Oilers find themselves just two points out of a playoff spot on Sunday morning. Most fans are rightfully happy just to still be hanging around. But is it possible that the Oilers will actually make the playoffs this year? The short answer is yes, it's possible.

Let's take a quick examination of the numbers. Last year, Calgary locked up the last playoff spot in the west [grumble] with 97 points, and a record of 45-30-7. To reach 97 points this year, the Oilers would need a record of something like 30-13-9 over their last 52 games. That's a tall order (57.6% winning percentage) for any team, especially one that has won just 43.3% of the time so far. But things don't end there.

The Pacific Division is weak, which has allowed the Oilers to hang around. The third place team, Vancouver, currently has a worse W/L record than the Oilers. Hooray, loser point! They're also on pace for just 82 points - a significant drop off from Calgary's total last year. To better that record, the Oilers would need to finish 23-20-9 (or thereabouts). Moreover, twenty-one of the Oilers' last 52 games are against division rivals, including, critically, three each against San Jose and Calgary

Arizona, the second place team at the moment, is also just a .500 team and it has some real underlying trouble. And it's in the underlying numbers where we find that the division is wide open.

At 5x5, the LA Kings are running away with the league, nevermind the division, in Corsi For %. Anaheim also has good possession numbers, but they can't score (4.9% team shooting percentage, the lowest in the league). Over time that should even out, and Anaheim is still good enough to finish second in this bad division, but they won't make up the difference on LA. But that third spot is up in the air.

Arizona is pitiful in possession, 28th in the league in CF%. However, they're riding the best 5x5 shooting percentage in the NHL right now, and still they're just breaking even in the standings. What's more, they're minus-14 in GF/GA. When those hot hands stop filling the net, which they will, expect the Coyotes to sink like a stone.

Vancouver, meanwhile, is 24th in the league in CF% and their PDO (the best way we know to measure how lucky a team has been) suggests that the Canucks simply are what they appear to be. The underlying numbers don't seem to indicate that they're any worse than the team that has won 36.6% of the time so far, but they're probably not any better than that, either.

The three remaining teams, San Jose, Edmonton and Calgary, are 13th, 20th and 21st respectively in CF%, with almost no daylight between the Oilers and Flames.

So far, the Flames have enjoyed the sixth-highest 5x5 shooting percentage in the league, but they've been bad because they can't get a save. The Oilers' team shooting percentage is 12th-best and the Sharks' is 16th. All three teams are in the bottom four in 5x5 save percentage, with Calgary at the very bottom of the league.

If things remain relatively equal in net for the three teams, then offense will probably make the difference between who makes the playoffs and who doesn't. That is, of course, where Connor McDavid comes in, and it makes his injury even more unfortunate for the Oilers.

The positive side, on the other hand, is that McDavid will play again this season, just as the Oilers will need a boost in their scoring. The key will be to stay within striking distance of that final playoff spot until McDavid returns, and Anders Nilsson appears to have something to say about that. 

Nilsson is closing the gap of the Oilers' luck this year. Even with his recent performances, this team is near the bottom of the league in save percentage at even strength. If he can keep this going and pull the team to a respectable average, it may be the Oilers and not the Flames who zero in on the Sharks for that final playoff spot.

We've seen that things don't always follow the numbers perfectly in practice, but the picture they're painting is of a mediocre Oilers team in a very bad division. That may be enough.

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