When I last checked in on the keys to the Oilers season after the first 20 games of the season, the hot start had faded but things still looked decent for the team. They'd won as many as they'd lost and thanks to two shootout losses were a couple of points above the Bettman version of .500. With 22 points the Oilers weren't in a playoff position but they were just one point behind eighth place. Things looked okay and while I wasn't ready to declare the Oilers a playoff contender I had to concede that "there [was] a sliver of hope that Hall could be right about this team making the playoffs."
But 21 games later the Oilers reached the season's midway point with the dreams of making the playoffs, or even playing meaningful games in March, long gone. Instead the Oilers are now staring directly at a third consecutive lottery pick after going 6-14-1 in the season's second quarter. So what happened? After the jump I take a look at what I'd previously identified as keys to this season - being better against the Northwest Division, a change in the Oilers number one goalie, getting off to better starts, staying healthy, and avoiding sophomore slumps - to see if there are hints there as to what's gone wrong.
Being Better Against the Northwest Division - The Oilers last 21 games saw included nine games against Northwest Division opponents. At first glance the Oilers 3-5-1 record in this quarter doesn't look very good but if you consider that the team went 3-9-0 outside of the division the record looks a little bit better. On the season the Oilers are now 5-7-3 and are only four points behind the 17 they totalled against the Northwest all of last season with nine games left to play. Considering the state of the Oilers right now it's probably a long shot to think that the preseason goal of 24 points will be reached but they do have a chance to improve over last seasons total. Call it a moral victory.
Changing Things Up In Goal - When I last checked in Nikolai Khabibulin had had a wonderful start and was busy making fans forget all about his disastrous play the season before. But as we all knew would happen Khabibulin's time as the NHL's best goaltender came to an end and over the last quarter of the season Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk have identical 0.905 save percentages. The goaltending hasn't been terrible but it has absolutely fallen back from the early season level over the last 21 games and that has played a role in the Oilers losing a lot more than they're winning.
Getting Off To Better Starts - Good news, bad news here. After scoring first in half of their first 20 games the Oilers improved in the next quarter scoring the games first goal in 13 of 21 games. That's the good news. The bad news is that the first goal hasn't translated to wins as I would have hoped. In the 13 games where the Oilers scored first they had a 0.385 winning percentage and a 0.423 points percentage, in both cases terrible and well below the OIlers averages from last season. That the Oilers played almost two-thirds of their games on the road where the team struggles to get the matchups they would prefer in this quarter likely played a role in these percentages but whatever the reason it's something the Oilers need to correct going forward.
Staying Healthy - As usual the Oilers are struggling with injuries. Andy Sutton, Corey Potter, Tom Gilbert, and Ryan Whitney all missed games with injuries in the second quarter of the season and Cam Barker missed the whole segment. The combined effect was an already thin blue line made even thinner, and not surprisingly there were struggles. Whitney did manage to dress in 13 games for the Oilers in the quarter but was nothing like the player we know in any of those games. Also in the dressed but playing through pain category was Ales Hemsky who played all but two games (missed due to illness) during this stretch. Of course if Hemsky is healthy there need to be other injuries up front, in this case it was Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missing games and then Jordan Eberle injured himself in game 41 of the season just to ensure the next quarter started off with a bang. Injuries are part of the game but as usual the Oilers seem to be suffering more than their fair share and it's once again showing up in the standings.
Avoiding Sophomore Slumps - After the first 20 games of the season it looked like a sophomore slump wouldn't be an issue for two of the three Oilers' sophomores, Magnus Paajarvi of course being the exception. In the 21 games since then absolutely nothing has changed. Eberle and Hall continue to show no signs of slowing down and Paajarvi seems unable to get anything going in his game. Paajarvi played in only eight games and spent a month with the Barons in Oklahoma City during the second quarter of the season. Before the season started I wrote that wasn't unlikely that one of these three would suffer a setback in terms of production this season, I didn't think a drop off like Paajarvi's was likely for any of them though.
It was a rough 21 game stretch for the Oilers and their fans. The start was an illusion, we all knew that, but we didn't expect reality to look quite like this. Looking at the five keys it would be a hard to say that they really achieved any of the five during the second quarter of the season. Those were things they needed to do to make the playoffs and it's now clear that the Oilers won't be making the playoffs, due in part to not making strides in these areas.