The Oilers are off to a great start, second in the Pacific Division and 5 points clear of a playoff spot but is this anything more than a McDavid fueled hot start?
A good indicator of whether a team as a whole is over achieving is to look at a larger sample size than wins or team +/-. The largest data set available is the team’s Corsi For %. This indicates whether a team has possession of the puck more than their opponents. The Oilers rank 11th in the NHL in CF% and 3rd in the Pacific Division. This shows that the Oilers are not winning games by luck, there is real improvement over the teams 48.9% 2015-16 season which ranked 12th worst in the NHL.
Among smaller but also reliable data sets the Oilers also show well with:
– 51.16% Fenwick For % (11th NHL) ,
– 51.91% Goals For % (12th NHL)
– 50.87% Shots For % (10th NHL) and
– 50.1% Scoring Chances For%
There are only 7 teams in the NHL to have a positive number in every category listed above and the Oilers are one of them. Combine these with the fact that the Oilers have an average shooting percentage and average save percentage and you have a team that is performing well across the board without running hot, unsustainable goaltending or lucky shooting.
Individually let’s start with the new captain McDavid, he’s co-leader for the scoring race in the NHL and providing consistent, elite offense with a rotating set of wingers. He’s been excellent as expected and his contribution to the Oilers position in the standings shouldn’t and won’t be ignored. Past the obvious impact of the captain is there room for optimism?
The Oilers latest winning streak is a great example, it has come at a time where the offense has not been coming in piles for McDavid. Despite this, the team has been able to come from behind to tie and win games, pushing teams around and grinding out wins along the way when finesse alone isn’t cutting it. There is real depth to this team (including defensively) and it is really showing of late.
Leon Draisaitl has been fantastic despite playing a lot of minutes with 3rd line quality wingers, putting up 1st line quality stats.
Patrick Maroon has continued to show himself to be a capable top 6 winger on the score sheet.
Milan Lucic, despite his detractors, has been putting up good numbers and is 3rd on the team in scoring.
Mark Letestu has proven me entirely wrong as a capable power play specialist along with killing penalties and centering a 4th line that is a 5 on 5 force.
Zack Kassian continues to Kass and if he were to find a little luck from the officials might have 12-15 points from a depth role.
Matthew Benning has been fantastic, building on the Brandon Davidson happy surprise of 15-16 and giving the Oilers a very usable right shot defender.
Adam Larsson is a capable right shot 1st pairing defender.
Darnell Nurse had been very good prior to injury and has a complete skill set to go along with a maturing positional understanding of the game.
Andrej Sekera has been everything the Oilers thought they were getting when they signed him; capable and reliable in all situations.
Oscar Klefbom has been up and down but is coming off of a major period of long-term recovery and has proven every bit capable as a top 4 defender.
Cam Talbot has been a legitimate starting goaltender providing dependable regular starts.
Contributing further to that depth are a few players that have yet to contribute to full effect this season that we know have the potential to do more should the performance of others slide. The entire unit recently used for long stretches as a top line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle are underperforming based on their abilities and could very well have a rebound in 2017.
Jesse Puljuajrvi is a highly talented rookie that has been in and out of the lineup. He is the youngest player in the NHL, was and was regarded in his draft year as a better prospect than Leon Draisaitl was and was in the conversation around this time last year to unseat Auston Matthews as the #1 pick. Arguably his rookie season has been as or more successful than Draisaitl’s was and he has the potential to break out as early as the second half of this season.
The Oilers are legitimately outplaying their opponents more often than not and although as Oiler fans are all too aware key injuries can derail a season (as they can any teams) there is no reason to believe that the team is anything but for real.
Enjoy 2017 everyone!!