WELL… who saw THIS start coming??
The Oilers are thriving and showing a lot of drive as they strive for a playoff spot this season. Their dream is alive and well as a result of winning five of their first five games!
Alright, now that the rhymes are out of my system, let’s get into why the Oilers are doing so well to start the season.
I’ll start by pointing out the obvious: McDavid and Draisaitl are 1-2 in NHL scoring so far! McDavid leads the way with 12 points, and Draisaitl is right on his tail with 11. The scary thing is that while we have seen some spectacular plays from McDavid, we haven’t really seen him take a game over yet.
Draisaitl, on the other hand, has.
Leon has taken his game to another level this season. Up until now, his defensive zone play had been questionable at times. One of the reasons that people didn’t like running Draisaitl with McDavid is that they would get confused about responsibilities in their own zone because both are natural centres, and they would often switch positions in the defensive zone. His work on the PK had been somewhat underrated previously. He has proven to be smart with his stick placement and he has been good at breaking up passes. He created a good number of short-handed chances last season.
So far this season, Draisaitl appears to have figured out whatever the issue was in the defensive zone from the last few seasons. Tippett has relied upon him in all situations. He’s averaging 24:46 in ice time per game through 5 games. Draisaitl has rewarded his coach with simply dominant play all over the ice so far. Tippett has used him as the lone forward when killing off 5-on-3s, and he’s getting ample minutes on the PK (especially when Sheahan was out). Of course, he’s been putting up lots of points as well.
We knew those two would be good. We weren’t sure about the others though.
What can I say about James Neal that hasn’t already been said thus far? He’s breaking all sorts of Oilers records for goal scoring early in this season. He’s playing like he’s pissed off about how his year in Calgary went, and we are the lucky beneficiaries of it. He’s leading the league with 7 goals, 5 of which are on the powerplay; a powerplay that ranks 2nd in the league at 41.2%! The PK is at 94.1%, which is a bloody miracle based on the past few seasons.
Zack Kassian had points in the first 4 games before being held off the score sheet against the Rangers, even though he played a good game. Like Patrick Maroon before him, Kassian has taken his solid play on the top line from the second half of last season and brought it forth into this season. I said that he’s playing the best hockey of his life during the preseason, and he’s continuing to do just that.
We’re even getting some offence from the blueline! Oscar Klefbom is 3rd in the league with 7 points so far, and Darnell Nurse is tied for 7th with 5 points. It’s been a long time since the Oilers had two defencemen that high up ion the scoring list for defencemen at any point in a season.
The Oilers are rolling with 2 rookies on defence in the wake of Adam Larsson’s injury. Ethan Bear has moved the puck with poise and precision. He’s been very effective so far. The points haven’t come in bunches for him yet, but they will come. Joel Persson has had a cautious start, but he has been reliable and his confidence is starting to grow as he plays more games. Even Matt Benning has been solid. This is his best start to a season as a pro. He hasn’t been flashy (nor will he ever be), but he hasn’t made many mistakes on goals against, which is his key to success.
They’ve been getting solid goaltending from the tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen has a save % of .914, and Smith is at .907. That .907 could be higher if not for one rough outing against the Kings where he gave the puck away on plays that lead directly to goals twice in the first period. They aren’t jaw dropping numbers, but they are getting the job done right now.
The team is showing tremendous resiliency right now as well. They’ve been trailing in all five games so far, and they’ve come back to win them all. They were down with less than 10 minutes to go in the 3rd period on three occasions, and they won all three.
While the resiliency is a positive thing, the fact that they’ve been down in every game is not a great sign.
They have been outshot in 3 of the 5 games, and they tied the Isles in shots that night despite beating them 5-2. The last game against the Rangers was the only one in which the Oilers out-shot their opponent. While shots for are not an exact indicator of which team should win, they usually give you an idea of which team was carrying the majority of the play.
Here are some fancy stats as found on Natural Stat Trick:
Corsi For %: 47.87% (23rd)
Fenwick For %: 47.92% (24th)
Expected Goals For %: 50.66% (14th)
Scoring Chances For %: 49.45% (20th)
Aside from being in the middle of the pack in expected goals for, they are in the bottom third of the league in these other important metrics. If they continue to get out-shot and seemingly outplayed most every night, they will lose some games.
Neal won’t continue to shoot at a 36.8% clip. The PK won’t stay at 94.1% for the entire season. Those numbers will come back down to Earth at some point, and the Oilers will lose some games as a result.
McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal, and Kassian have been doing most of the scoring. Only 2 of Neal’s goals have been at even strength. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is off to a bit of a slow start by his standards with only 3 points in the first 5 games.
Scoring from the bottom of the lineup is still an issue.
Tomas Jurco (2), Joakim Nygard (1), and Gaetan Haas (1) are the only other Oilers forwards with points thus far! Jurco had an assist on one of Neal’s goals, and Haas and Nygard got their points on the same goal (which was scored at 4-on-4). So really, there have been 2 goals that forwards outside of the top two lines have been in on, and only one was at 5-on-5 (Jurco’s dirty assist on Nurse’s goal vs LA).
Jujhar Khaira and Riley Sheahan’s line (regardless of who the other winger has been) has provided many hard-working shifts in the offensive zone with no reward on the scoresheet yet. Granlund has been quiet. Chiasson and Archibald have missed time due to illness, but both have been quiet as well. Patrick Russell has been fine, but he’s not going to give us offence. Cave was underwhelming, and has already been sent down to Bakersfield (I figured that Haas would pass him soon enough…).
The bottom 6 forward group has to get it going offensively because the big boys will need some help eventually. The fact that the Oilers are basically employing two fourth lines again this season isn’t an encouraging sign.
My point in saying all of this is that while things are going swimmingly right now, there are signs that they might not go 82-0 this season.
Their fast start has them in great position for a playoff berth, but we also have to remember that the Sabres had a 10-game winning streak last season, and they still missed the playoffs. The Flyers also missed the playoffs in a season where they had a 10-game winning streak in 2016-17. No amount of early season success is a guarantee of being a playoff team.
Let’s enjoy this fast start from our beloved Oilers! Let’s celebrate their early success. Let’s keep beaking Flames fans about the Real Deal, and let’s keep obsessing over our two shining stars; but we also need to refrain from planning any parades just yet. It’s a long road that lies ahead.