Over the last couple of days I've looked at how better goaltending and not being the doormats of the Northwest Division are two key items that the Oilers will need to accomplish if they are going to compete for a playoff spot this season. But last season the Oilers finished with 62 points, 32 points less than the post lockout average for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, so goaltending and a better divisional record will only get this team partway to their goal.
If the playoffs are going to happen for this team, the Oilers are also going to have to get off to a better start on most nights. Last season the Oilers spent far too much time playing from behind and that isn't an easy way to win games. If you want to win games, get the lead and don't let it go.
Below is a table showing each team's record when scoring first. The table has been sorted by total games scoring the first goal.
|Team||Result When Scoring 1st|
And, as you've no doubt become accustomed to by now, there the Oilers are right there at the bottom of the table, scoring first in just 32 games last season. For an idea of the value of scoring that first goal you'll find only two teams in the top 16 spots - the Blues and Thrashers - that didn't make the playoffs. That the Blues and Thrashers ranked 28th and 30th in point percentage when scoring first is probably a big factor in why they didn't get in.
Looking at the Oilers numbers for a minute, on the rare occasion that they did score first, they had a point percentage of 0.656, but when they didn't score first their point percentage drops to a league low 0.200. Based on that differential, scoring first was, on average, worth just over 0.9 points in the standings for the Oilers last season. If the Oilers were just average and scored first half the time, that would have been equivalent to another four wins. That certainly isn't insignificant. And it also doesn't account for the improvement in the point percentage when scoring first. There is real room for them to pick up some wins by improving here.
But of course saying "score first" is easier said than done. So how do the Oilers go about getting on the scoreboard first, giving themselves a better chance to win? They do it by taking adavantage of home ice.
With the home crowd behind you and the ability to control the on-ice match-up it would seem to me that a team would be more likely to get a lead when playing at home. However, in the case of the Oilers last season that wasn't true. Of the 32 time that the Oilers scored first, exactly half of those were on home ice and their success rate when doing so was almost exactly the same as their overall rate. Those numbers need to be better.
If you go past the first goal and look at the first period, the results are no better. At home last season the Oilers went to the dressing room at the end of the first period with the lead 11 times in 41 tries. That isn't very good. And more often than not, the outcome was already decided at that point. The Oilers won nine of the 11 games they were leading after one period; in the other 30 games they won four times and in three of those games the score was tied after one period of play. That kind of performance is not what I would call taking advantage of the benefits of home ice.
Improving on home ice is something that is going to take changes from both the players and the coaches. Working the lines and getting the right match-ups is something that the coaches need to be responsible for, it's their job. But the players need to make sure they're ready to play as well. More than a few times last season the Oilers failed to register a shot in the game's first ten minutes and that's not acceptable. These are professional athletes and they can't be dependent on the coaching staff to motivate them on a nightly basis, that's something they have to do themselves.
I think we can all agree that good teams win games at home. They take advantage of the benefits of being at home and they more often than not come away with the win. In the post-lockout NHL only five teams out of 96 have made the playoffs with more losses in front of their fans than wins. If the Oilers want to be considered a good team and make the playoffs this season they will obviously need to win more games than they did last season, so they might as well win them where wins are easiest to come by, and that's at home. If the Oilers play better early in home games they could improve by four to six wins over last season, getting them another step closer to the playoffs.