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Looking For Clues

Oilers had a very successful second half of the season in 2021-22. What are the chances they can repeat that success in 2022-23?

Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Please recall the 2021-22 Oilers season. It was a lot of fun for a lot of the season. Oh sure, there was that 2-12 patch that helped push Dave Tippett off the bench, but the Oilers finished with 49 wins, and over 100 points on the season. They took down the Kings, the Flames (in five games, mind you) before finally sputtering against the Avalanche in the conference finals.

That Oilers club was 18-15-2 after 35 games, just like this year’s club. Last year’s Oilers club would go 31-12-4 down the stretch to finish second in the division, while giving Edmonton a home playoff round. Good stuff all around.

Can this year’s Oilers do that again?

Like the Oilers of 365 days ago, the 2022-23 Oilers have some ground to make up. They coughed and sputtered to a 5-2 loss against the Vancouver Canucks on December 23rd, and they’re now on the outside of the second season looking in. 38 points for the Oilers is good for fifth in the Pacific today, while Seattle, Los Angeles, Vegas and Calgary all rank higher.

I think the Oilers are going to have a difficult time “catching fire” like they did last year. There’s a few reasons why. Just a few.

SOME GOOD

This year’s Oilers are scoring a bunch of goals, even though they’re only a fraction above .500. Only two other teams are averaging more than the Oilers per game, and that’s Boston and Buffalo. Edmonton is scoring an average of 3.6 goals per game this season. They’ve got two of the league’s premier players on their roster in Connor McDavid (30-36-66) and Leon Draisaitl (21-35-56). The Oilers have 126 total goals on the season, four players (McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman) account for two-thirds of them.

What am I getting at? The Oilers don’t have much room between where they’re at and the ceiling. Last year’s Oilers scored an average of 3.68 goals per game between games 36 and the end of the season, a period where they “caught fire”. This year’s Oilers are already scoring at 3.6 goals per game. An additional .08 goals per game isn’t that far off from where they’re at. It’s one goal every twelve and a half games, which isn’t nearly enough to be a difference-maker on offence.

POWER PLAY

Like the total goals per game, Edmonton’s power play is quite efficient. Last season, the Oilers finished up with a 26% success rate. They’re flying high on the advantage this year at 32.3, almost a goal in every three tries. That’s good for first in the league. It’s difficult to be better than the best, which is why I have a hard time thinking it’s going to go up by much. How much higher can this realistically expect to go?

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Oilers PK stinks this year. They’re ranked 26th in the league with a 72.3% success rate; they’re allowing over one goal in four PK attempts. Last year’s Oilers finished a bit better at just a whisker under 80%, or about one goal in five. Last year’s Oilers allowed 52 goals while shorthanded all year. They’ve already yielded 36 this year, and they’re not even halfway through the season. How many does that equate to over a full year? It’s probably over 70, which is a dozen more than last year. What’s going to change?

DEFENCE

If the Oilers are going to get serious about making a move towards the postseason this year, this is the position they likely can fix most easily. It’s going to cost them, but acquiring Jakob Chychrun would be a monster deal for the Oilers. Acquiring Joel Edmunson would be a monster deal for the Oilers as well, but likely not in a good way. Short of Stuart Skinner grabbing a .945 save percentage from here until the season ends, a top pair of Nurse and Cody Ceci is testing your faith.

Oilers are allowing 3.46 goals a game this year, which is pretty close to what they’re putting out (3.6). 3.46 is almost a half a goal more allowed per game when compared to last season’s Oilers (3.06), or about eighteen goals difference between games 36 and 82.

GOALTENDING

If Jack Campbell could have a do-over, he would. Campbell’s .876 SV% is egregiously poor, while Stuart Skinner’s .911 SV% has cooled from a much loftier number early in the season. To be fair to Skinner, his number could hang in the Louvre when held next to Campbell’s. Campbell is ranked 75th in the league in GSAE and his SV% is near the bottom of the league. Even if Campbell regresses to league average (or somewhere near Skinner), the playoff for the Oilers would be astronomical.

All it takes for the Oilers to “catch fire” in the second half of their season is to score some more goals, keep more of them out of their net, clean up the penalty kill and tighten up the defence.

It sounds like Stuart Skinner is going to need a .937 SV% from here to the end.

No problem. Bring it on.