Superstars, secondary scoring, team defence, hot goaltending all driving Edmonton Oilers' surge

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Games 11-20 segment review

This is our eleventh season of reviewing Edmonton Oilers’ performance at regular intervals of 10 games, 77 such segments in all.

The most recent run of games was the best.

Only once before had the Oilers won 8 games in an identified segment, when they posted a superficially-identical 8-2-0 run from Games 71-80 in 2016-17 as they surged into a playoff berth. But that team needed overtime to win one of those games, meaning they yielded 5 points to their collective opponents. The current run includes nothing but regulation wins, meaning that Edmonton’s North Division opponents harvested just 4 points from those 10 games.

That is especially significant in a season which is contained within the division, where virtually every game is the proverbial four-pointer. Over the course of these last three weeks the Oilers have surged up the standings. Where they were in fifth place by points and sixth by percentage after their first 10 GP, they now sit second and fourth respectively by those measures. (Standings before Monday night’s game.)

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Look at that right-most  column showing each team’s record over their last 10. The Oilers are tied with high-flying Toronto with 16 points, even as they yielded 2 fewer points to their opponents. They’ve gained 3 on Winnipeg over that span, and a massive 7-10 points on each of the bottom four clubs.

2021
____
Games 1-10: 4-6-0, .400 | 30 GF, 36 GA | 316 SF, 327 SA | 0.985 PDO
Games 11-20: 8-2-0, .800 | 42 GF, 26 GA | 300 SF, 323 SA | 1.060 PDO

Digging a little deeper, the Oilers outscored their combined opponents by 16 goals in the recent segment. Only once before dating back to 2010 have they achieved a double-digit goal differential on the positive side of the equation, when they scored 34 goals and allowed 22 in the above-mentioned closing stretch of 2016-17. They bested that +12 by a significant margin this time around.

A note of caution that this run has been significantly fueled by percentages. Oilers were actually outshot during the 10 games, but produced a team shooting percentage of 14.0% while holding opponents to a paltry 8.0% conversion rate. Such a disparity proved to be sustainable for the dynasty Oilers of the 1980s, who consistently ran a PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage) in the 1.05 range, but it’s certainly not a reasonable expectation of the current group or indeed for any team in the NHL’s Parity Era.

That said, in a short span of games the shot clock can itself be driven by score effects. Over these last ten the Oilers have held the lead for 390 minutes, trailed for just 101. In 6 of those games the Oilers had the lead to stay within 10 minutes of the opening faceoff. One of those perma-leads came within the opening 10 seconds!

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That was against the Ottawa Senators, of course, when Dominik Kahun tied Wayne Gretzky’s 38-year-old franchise record with a goal at 0:08 of the first period in Game 11. Which brings us to the elephant in the room: 4 of Edmonton’s 10 games in this segment were against the Senators. The Oilers won all 4 by a combined score of 18-10, meaning they outscored everybody else by 24-16 in the other 6 games, winning 4 of them.

It’s an old maxim that you can only beat the team you’re playing that night. And it’s also worth pointing out that Ottawa’s 5 wins all came against top teams: Toronto twice, Montreal twice, Winnipeg once.

Edmonton’s current three-game winning streak — their third in a row, each interrupted by a single loss — involved zero games against the Sens. Each win involved a similar game plan: scoring in the opening minutes, widening the lead, and then holding that lead to the final buzzer. In those games vs. Winnipeg, Calgary and Calgary, the Oilers held leads of 2-0, 1-0, and 2-0 by the six-minute mark of the first period. And they held on grimly in each case, allowing just 4 goals against in the three games combined.

Fact is the Oilers have been getting it from all up and down the line-up: goals from the stars, goals from the bottom six, goals from the blue line crew. They’ve been getting good to excellent attention to defensive detail from the same groups (read: the entire team). Over the ten games the Oilers outscored their collective opponents by 30-20 at even strength, 11-6 in powerplay goals, 1-0 in empty netters.

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Let’s dig deeper by position, examining each as a group and individually:

Goal

  • Adapted from NHL.com

Two goalies sharing the workload has proven light years removed from one guy carrying the whole load, as happened in the first segment, when Mikko Koskinen played every minute and posted underwhelming percentages of .895 and 3.45. In the second 10 he improved those by ~20 and 60 basis points respectively, corroborating his past history that he’s at his best in a shared arrangement. Helps when the cohort comes on gangbusters with a .940, 1.83 in his first 5 games as Mike Smith has done. We all know .940 can’t last, but so far Smith has been good and Koskinen has been improved in his company.

Meanwhile, young Stuart Skinner accomplished two things during his lone appearance back in Game 11: he provided some valuable rest time for Koskinen, and, importantly, he got the win.

One odd and perhaps significant observation from something I am following this season: even as both main goalies logged near-identical minutes, the Oilers played better defensive hockey in front of Smith. By our count here at the Cult of Hockey, the Oilers allowed just 32 Grade A scoring chances on Smith’s watch, 54 on Koskinen’s. We’ll continue to track this for a while before drawing, and sharing, any conclusions, but the early results are interesting enough to mention here.

Defence

Some stunning production here. The new top pairing of Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie has combined for 20 points in their first 10 games together. This while munching major minutes at even strength and at least one special team each. The partnership came into being when Nurse’s regular partner, Ethan Bear, was beaned by a stray puck in Game 10. Bear did not take part in this segment.

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But Evan Bouchard sure did, essentially taking Bear’s spot in the starting six if not quite on top pairing. He’s added a little offensive bite as well, and he’s not alone as even the defense-first guys like Kris Russell, William Lagesson, and Adam Larsson have chipped in a little bit.

Best of all to my eyes are all those green numbers in the +/- column, which with zero shorties either way and just one ENG during the segment, fairly accurately represents 5v5 goal differential. The goal-differential results of Nurse-Barrie during this run are particularly impressive.

Forwards

Good news all across the board here. The top guys who largely carried the team through the opening 10 games kept right on producing, with Connor McDavid actually increasing his output from 17 points to 20. Meanwhile Leon Draisaitl “slumped” from 15 points and +7 in the opening 10 games to 15 points and +6 in the second segment.

First time around, there was a vast gulf between those guys and the rest, with only two other forwards above 3 points. This time around there are eight such, including no fewer than five bottom-sixers in Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira, James Neal, Josh Archibald, Tyler Ennis. Again the list is swarming with green plus figures, with nobody at all worse than -1 over the 10 games. (It is, however, a bit hard to reconcile the boxcars of Draisaitl with those of his regular linemates Dominik Kahun and Kailer Yamamoto. Sure Leon is a powerplay ace, but where did that +6 come from?)

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Up top the first unit has really balanced out the scoring, with all of McDavid, Ryan Nugent-HopkinsJesse Puljujarvi, and lest we forget, Nurse, all tied for the club lead with 5 goals each. The fifth member of the unit, Barrie, “only” had 3. Obviously some of those goals came in different manpower situations, but it is a feature not a bug when your entire top 5v5 unit is putting the puck in the net with regularity.

Player grades

We close in our usual fashion by reviewing the set of 10 games through the lens of our own subjective ratings here at the Cult of Hockey. Regular readers will know that we grade on a scale of 1 to 10, the performance of every Edmonton Oilers player in every game the team plays, based on a combination of observation and interpretation of statistical output. Here are average grades for Games 11-20 along with our customary thumbnail comment summarizing each player’s contribution over that span:

Cult of Hockey grades, second segment:

  • Bruce McCurdy – 5 games, 3-2-0, average grade 5.8
  • Kurt Leavins – 3 games, 3-0-0, average grade 6.0
  • David Staples – 2 games, 2-0-0, average grade 6.0
  • Segment totals – 10 games, 8-2-0, average grade 5.9

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