Jonthan Willis touched on a topic that's gaining momentum in the 'sphere, the enormous difference in the Oilers' ability to prevent shots this year as compared to the last couple of seasons. Jonathan writes:
There’s been a slight increase offensively, but the real breakthrough has been in terms of shots against; after posting a lousy number in 2010-11 the Oilers have been superb this season. The number may be too good to be true, in fact; it would have led the league last season. Even so, the Oilers have gone from being badly outshot one season ago to holding a slight edge in the play this year.
More surprising than the overall numbers are the players leading the way in preventing shots against. Up front, Magnus Paajarvi and Taylor Hall are surrendering 18.8 and 19.3 shots per 60 minutes at even strength. On the backend, Tom Gilbert is surrendering 19.5 shots per 60, another testament to both his tremendous all-around game and excellent start to the season.
Scott has focused on how badly the Oilers have been outshot over the last two seasons and how difficult it is to overcome such a deficit in order to win hockey games. Thus far this season, the Oilers are fifth in the league in shots against. At first glance, this season is different, but we need to look deeper. Jonathan is absolutely correct; these are the best shots against numbers the Oilers have posted in a very long time, but there's a caveat...
...the underliers' underlying numbers have played a significant part in this early-season turn around.
Five of the Oilers seven games have come against teams ranked 23rd or worse in shots per game. They've played 23rd-ranked Calgary, 27th-ranked Minnesota twice, 29th- ranked New York and 30th-ranked Nashville.
"Aha!" you say. "Those teams are ranked so poorly because of the superior shot suppression skills of the Oilers!"
It's possible, but it's easy to remove the seven games against the Oilers from their opponent's totals, eliminating Edmonton's influence on their shot totals.
Their opponents, not including games against Edmonton, would rank 23rd in the league in shots per game. The Oilers have built their shots against numbers against teams that are struggling to put pucks on the net regardless of the team they're playing against.
Peek ahead at the Oilers' schedule. The next ten days show games against Vancouver (5th), Washington (14th), Colorado (11th), St. Louis (9th) -- teams all in the top half of the league in shots thus far. These games should give us a better indication of the Oilers' ability to suppress shots. Even then the sample size is still small, but we should have a better feel for the Oilers' abilities at that point.