Meaningful matches in March? The Edmonton Oilers are not only playing them for the first time in way too long, but they are winning their share. The most recent ten-game segment saw the locals scratch and claw their way to 5 wins and 11 points to maintain their hold on a playoff position as the 2016-17 regular season enters its home stretch.
While the club’s record was just one point better in the most recent ten-game segment, a number of key indicators were pointed north:
Games 1 – 10: 7-2-1, .750 | 31 GF, 22 GA | 312 SF, 313 SA | 1.029 PDO
Games 11-20: 4-6-0, .400 | 27 GF, 29 GA | 304 SF, 291 SA | .989 PDO
Games 21-30: 3-3-4, .500 | 31 GF, 30 GA | 338 SF, 299 SA | .991 PDO
Games 31-40: 6-2-2, .700 | 24 GF, 23 GA | 296 SF, 321 SA | 1.009 PDO
Games 41-50: 7-2-1, .750 | 32 GF, 23 GA | 322 SF, 274 SA | 1.015 PDO
Games 51-60: 5-5-0, .500 | 23 GF, 25 GA | 284 SF, 292 SA | .995 PDO
Games 61-70: 5-4-1, .550 | 33 GF, 29 GA | 321 SF, 295 SA | 1.004 PDO
That’s a .550 points percentage in a .560 league, mind, where “over .500” is an oh-so-20th-Century concept. Fact is, over each teams’ last ten games, the Oilers have lost a little ground to every serious rival: Calgary 18 (!) points, Anaheim 13, Los Angeles 13, St. Louis 12. Thankfully the Oilers had built a decent lead to be able to withstand a little erosion down the stretch, if not too much. I liken it to a game where your team holds a 3-goal lead entering the third period and by the time the clock hits 10:00 left still has a two-goal lead. In good shape but not totally comfortable; the only way to seal that deal is to play solid hockey as the season’s clock winds down.
The Oilers have been playing solid hockey 5v5, outscoring their opponents by a net 25-17 over the past 10, an extremely good GF% of 59.5%. The powerplay has been singing a tune at 33 r.p.m., having connected on 8 of 24 opportunities over that span. The rest of special teams, not so good, notably an execrable penalty kill that allowed 9 goals on 21 chances against for a shocking 57% “success” rate. Add to the list of failed special teams a 6v5 unit that allowed three empty netters and has not pissed a single drop all season long (0 GF, 7 GA), and a shootout squad that got bested in its only trial. But hey, the powerplay has been good… *shudders*
Those are the kind of details that can decide a one-goal game (or even a 4-1 game for that matter), officially Areas of Concern for the final dozen games. The mere fact we are talking about such matters in the present tense makes this the best March in recent memory for Oil fans. My prior segment reviews at this time of year have always been of type “forensic”, so it’s refreshing to be talking about problems to be solved in the here and now rathert than the mythical next year.
Individually the club remains reliant on an increasingly dominant Connor McDavid, who had no fewer than six “great games” in the opinion of Cult of Hockey game graders, and only one that could be considered “average”. To these eyes #97 is drawing increasingly more of the opposition’s attention, even as they were collectively only able to “hold” him to 12 points in the 10 games. One long-overdue outcome is the emergence of secondary scoring as no fewer than eight Oilers forwards averaged at least 0.5 points per game:
That’s a longer list than usually appears in this space because 17 Oilers recorded multiple points, another nice indicator of depth scoring. Only rotating fourth-liners Matt Hendricks, Jujhar Khaira, and Iiro Pakarinen failed to score a point (combined 21 GP).
McDavid also led the way with 33 shots on goal, his second-best such segment of the season. Of the rest, Drake Caggiula was a surprise second in shots per game, firing 17 in 6 games and just 79 minutes of ice time. An interesting stat for those of us who wish Caggiula would hit the net with his shots. Yeah, about that…
Darnell Nurse and Zack Kassian were the plus/minus leaders at +5, though those empty netters wreaked havoc on this particular small sample.
This list on the other hand is as short as can be, as Cam Talbot was a modern-day Glenn Hall, starting and finishing every game. Solid enough numbers, although clearly damaged by that failing penalty kill. (Of which he is himself a crucial member, I must add.)
We close by revisiting player grades assigned here at the Cult of Hockey to every Oilers player after every game, on a 1 to 10 scale based on a combination of observation and interpretation of statistical output. Here are average grades for Games 61-70 along with our customary thumbnail comment summarizing each player’s contribution over that span:
Cult of Hockey graders (seventh segment):
Kurt Leavins — 5 games, 3-2-0, average grade 5.9
Bruce McCurdy – 3 games, 1-2-0, average grade 5.6
David Staples – 2 games, 1-0-1, average grade 6.6
Segment totals — 10 games, 5-4-1, average grade 6.0