This is the fourth of a five-part series looking into the areas in which the Oilers improved in the 2016-17 NHL season, leading them to their first playoff appearance in eleven years.
The Oilers have been marketing themselves as a developing offensive juggernaut since their first claim that a rebuild was taking place but they consistently fell below the league standards in most offensive categories. Things changed in that department this season, however, and the Oilers finally began to resemble the team most fans had been imagining they could be. When you have a generational talent as your first line centre there is a definite likelihood that will happen, but McDavid was somewhat stifled during the playoffs and the team managed to have some moderate success nonetheless.
Of course, we have been watching years of questionable goaltending lead to loss after demoralizing loss where even on the odd night where the offense would seem to fire on all cylinders the Oilers would manage to lose the high scoring games. While they did reasonably well in 2015-16 going 17-4, they went a remarkable 23-3 when scoring four or more goals in a game this year. In 2014-15 they were a measly 13-9 in that department. Yes, still more wins than losses but when scoring league-wide is down where it is losing when you score at least 4 should be a much rarer occurrence.
Improved Special Teams and Goaltending
When the Oilers were able to pry Cam Talbot away from the Rangers on day two of the 2015 NHL entry draft he came with a lot of uncertainty. He had an impressive record backing up Henrik Lundqvist in New York, in particular during a stint on the IR, but whether or not he would be able to thrive as a starting goalie full time remained to be seen. Simply getting a goalie who could start 2/3 of the games and deliver league average save percentage would be a breath of fresh air. Talbot had a few shaky moments in his first year but showed well enough to get a three-year extension. He was able to post a .917 save percentage, slightly above league average, in 56 games played.
So, the Oilers finally had a reliable starting Netminder and would need to find a back up to replace Anders Nilsson who was traded away at last year’s deadline. Laurent Brossoit, it was determined, wasn’t quite ready to be an NHL #2 so the Oilers signed Jonas Gustavsson. This was definitely a failure by Peter Chiarelli as Gustavsson’s NHL days were apparently behind him and Talbot’s most games played in an NHL season prior to that was the 56 he played in the previous year in Edmonton. Would he be able to handle a large workload? The answer was a resounding yes.
On April 6, 2017, Cam Talbot broke the single season wins record by an Oiler goalie previously held by some guy named Grant Fuhr. I think a rule should be that if you break any record held by one of the glory day Oilers you are having a good day, month, season, career, etc. By the time the horn sounded at the end of game 82 Talbot had managed a .919 save percentage in 73 games; he has become the steady, reliable goalie that many haven’t been able to be during their decade out of the playoffs. One thing noticeable about him is his penchant for being a soft-spoken, team first guy in interviews. All around, whether in the crease or in front of the microphone, Cam is calm.
Because the Oilers could rely on Talbot they were also able to roll the dice on Laurent Brossoit and he seemed to do fine in spot duty as a back-up Netminder this year. Although he had a smaller workload he managed to put up a .928 save percentage in 8 games, 4 of them being starts, and went 4-1. You’d like your starting goalie to steal you a few games and your back-up to give you a chance to win and it looks as though the Oilers have that going for them for at least the foreseeable future.
The improvement of the power play has also been refreshing. The success rate jumped up from 18.14% in 2015-16 to 22.86% this year. Not only have they scored on average more goals on the man advantage but they drew a few more penalties as well. Connor McDavid is a lethal weapon when the Oilers get to play with more skaters than the other team, and to make things better he registered points in less than half of their power play goals. Connor is dynamic, but it’s not all Connor.
Now, one area that remained stagnant is their likelihood of killing a penalty. In 2015-16 they had a PK success rate of 80.71% and it almost went unchanged this year at 80.72%, but through becoming a more disciplined team they fought off 31
In 2015-16 they had a PK success rate of 80.71% and it almost went unchanged this year at 80.72%, but through becoming a more disciplined team they fought off 31 fewer penalties this year. So even though they didn’t necessarily execute their penalty kill any better they had to rely on it less, which in effect kept the puck out of their net more. They also seemed to improve drastically by the end of the year and posted an 85.7% PK success rate during the playoffs.
So a few major areas that haunted the Oilers during their years of ineptitude seemed to become strengths; I guess if they had known what the effects might be they could’ve pulled it together years earlier.