Goaltending, like a number of other key categories, has been good for the Oilers this season. (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)
Losing weight, stop smoking, being nicer would be three of the top New Year's Resolutions that people will come up with from the movement of one year to the next. In the case of the Edmonton Oilers their team resolution would be win more. In fact it would be every team's resolution top, bottom and everyone in between would want the same. Pro sports is a results-driven business but right now Edmonton's results have driven them to the edge of turning themselves into a lottery potential picking team.
I walked into the Chicago dressing room on Monday and started talking with Andrew Brunette. Over the years, I've been able to get to know Andrew. In fact, he was an Oilers fans as a little kid. Growing up in Thunder Bay it was Edmonton that was his favourite team. His first question was "How's the team?". Well how do you answer that question at this point in the season. Struggling would be the simplest way to put it. That's what the Oilers were doing heading into the game against Chicago. However, after answering the 'How' question I started thinking of the 'Why' question. Why have the Edmonton Oilers fallen?
I started looking into the numbers and they don't at all suggest that this team began the New Year sitting 26th in the NHL. The numbers just don't jive and I don't have an answer for what has happened. For example going into the game against the New York Islanders the Oilers had the 3rd best powerplay and 9th best penalty kill in the league. They were one of only four teams along with Vancouver, Boston and Pittsburgh to be in the top 10 in both PP and PK. Yet while the Canucks had 50 points, the Bruins 49 and the Penguins 46, Edmonton was sitting at 33.
Then if they are handling things from the special teams angle then the next thing to look at would be 5-on-5 play. Sounds like a reasonable way to explain the recent struggles. Yet when you compare, for example, to Chicago the 5-on-5 results aren't overwhelming lopsided. The Hawks had scored 78 and given up 75 5 on 5 goals so they were plus 3. Edmonton 5-on-5 with 60 goals for and 63 against. Okay so they are -3. Only a 6-goal discrepancy and yet a 19-point difference between the two. Secondary scoring has been a concern but again I use Chicago as an example. If you take the Hawks top 5 goal scorers and add up the totals they sit at 75 goals. If you add up Edmonton''s top 5 goal scorers you get 65. Again a difference but not as big of one that you might expect and I'm comparing them to the best team in hockey and the second-highest scoring team in the league behind Vancouver.
Okay let's look at goaltending and there was no way that Edmonton's netminders, especially Nikolai Khabibulin
, could keep up his below-one GAA and save percentage in the .950-.960 range but again the combined numbers aren't bad. Heading into Monday, the Oiler goaltenders had a 2.71 GAA and .910 save%. They are ranked 15th in the league and yet we've discussed where they are in the standings. In fact 6 teams below Edmonton in Goals-Against Average are playoff teams. The numbers tell one story but the standings tell another. A team waiting for the wins to catch up with everything else they are doing on the ice which would certainly make for a Happy New Year.