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Grebeshkov Back; Strudwick to Sit. What does that mean to the Oilers?

According to Denis Grebeshkov, his return is imminent, meaning he will likely be in the lineup against the Kings.  He will replace "seventh" defenseman Jason Strudwick, who has appeared in 30 of 32 games for the Oilers thus far in 2009.  Strudwick has played his heart out for the Oilers, but he, and players in his role, aren't supposed to play seventy games a season.  He was exposed on more than one occasion and seemed to be swimming upstream on most nights.

Here's a quick look at some underlying statistics for both the 2008 and 2009 seasons for the two defensemen.

GP G A P EV+/- / 15 ESTOI/G CF/15 CA/15 DIFF/15 CORSI/15 QC RK
2008 - Denis Grebeshkov 72 7 32 39 .215 16:17 4.857 4.538 .319 .642 5/7
2008 - Jason Strudwick 71 2 7 9
-.133 11:13 3.538 4.479 -.941 -3.690 7/7


GP G A P EV+/- / 15 ESTOI/G CF/15 CA/15 DIFF/15 CORSI/15 QC RK
2009 - Denis Grebeshkov 19
10 -.277 17:54
-3.655 1/7
2009 - Jason Strudwick 30
0 3 3 -.110 14:00
-4.24 6/7


Before Grebeshkov was injured, he was playing the tough minutes for the Oilers, mostly due to injuries to Sheldon Souray.  As you can see in the year over year stats, he went from playing third pairing minutes to playing the toughest minutes on the team.  Though his traditional stats didn't suffer - .54 PPG in 08-09; .53 PPG in 09-10 - his underlying stats took a significant hit.  In other words, early on, he was benefiting from some luck.  His even strength +/- was off by nearly .5 per fifteen minutes, his scoring chances differential was off by over one chance per fifteen minutes, and his Corsi was off by over three shots per fifteen minutes. 

While Grebeshkov was forced to face stiffer competition, Strudwick has been tackling the same job as he was assigned to do last year, namely, third pairing competitors.  Despite getting the same assignment, Strudwick's play has also fallen in all areas except +/-.

With Grebs set to replace Strudwick, the common thinking is that he'll draw in on the third pairing with Steve Staios, settling into the third pairing minutes that he played last year.  If that's the case, expect him to significantly outplay Strudwick in that role.  Comparing the underlying numbers between Grebeshkov and Strudwick shows that the Oilers should expect a four-and-a-half shot improvement in Corsi per fifteen, nearly a two chance improvement in chances differential per fifteen and a swing back to positive in +/- per fifteen.

Given that the Oilers are just into the negative side of the ledger over the last ten games, Grebeshkov's return could pull the team back to level - something they've not had for a long, long while, especially in chances:  -22 in scoring chance differential is -2.2 chances per game, and from above we see that we can expect nearly a two chance improvement from Grebeshkov. 

Given the way this year started, and the current makeup of the roster, even is a wonderful thing.  The Oilers wouldn't need world-class .938 goaltending like they've received in the last five games.  They wouldn't need world-class luck like "the kids run" of two years ago.  The Oilers would need to have above-average goaltending and a little bit of luck, and that's not too hard to root for.

Welcome back, Denis.