The Oilers are just nine games into their 82 game regular season schedule, but what a nine games it has been. The team has a 5-2-2 record that represents having earned 12 of a possible 18 points, a record that has them atop the Northwest Division standings and 3rd in the Western Conference. I'm not going to argue that I think it's likely that they'll remain there, because I think that would be an unrealistic expectation. I do, however, think wins like the ones they've earned this week over last year's Conference Champions in Vancouver and Washington send a very clear message that they've got the ability to rock the boat.
The team isn't winning games in the way that we expected them to, that's for sure. The goaltending, which we had figured could be average to above average, has been truly elite so far. Nikolai Khabibulin
leads the league with a 0.97 GAA and a 0.964 SV% in 6 starts. His record is 4-02, helping the team earn 10 of a possible 12 points with him between the pipes.
They say your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender. Well, the Oilers have the 3rd ranked PK in the NHL right now at a 92.3% kill rate, and Khabibulin has been their best penalty killer. How good? He hasn't allowed a powerplay goal in the six games that he's played, turning away all 25 shots against.
And, let's not leave Devan Dubnyk
out of the equation here. He has suffered losses in 2 of his 3 starts, but has posted a 0.920 SV% in those games and, in starts against Pittsburgh and Calgary, allowed just 1 and 2 goals against respectively.DEFENCE
As a team, the Oilers are currently the best defensive group in the NHL. The team ranks 1st with a miniscule 1.44 goals against per game. It's very easy to reference the goaltending, as seen by the statistics above, as the main reason for this, but there are many other factors that play into it. While it might seem like they're giving up a lot of shots, truth is they're actually 11th in the NHL in lowest number of shots allowed per game. A lot of shots taken at the Oilers net aren't getting through because they're blocking a ton of shots, ranking 7th in the league right now with 149 blocks (17 per game). Defenceman Ladislav Smid
ranks 3rd amongst all NHL players with 30 blocks all by himself.
After being an awful faceoff team for the last bunch of years, have improved that statistic to put them in the middle of the pack at 16th in the NHL. The team's two major draw taker's, Eric Belanger
and Shawn Horcoff
, are predictably leading the way in this stat. Belanger is clicking at 59% and Horcoff is at 53.3%.
Of course, all of these elements combine to lead to a stunning turnaround in the penalty kill for the club, which again ranks 3rd in the NHL right now, behind only Pittsburgh and Buffalo. In the last 3 seasons, the Oilers PK finished 27th, 26th and 29th.FORWARDS
It's a good thing that the team has been stingy defensively, because they haven't been scoring a lot. Their goals and points leader is rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, who has posted a point-per-game pace thus far with 5 goals and 4 assists. RNH leads all rookies in both categories and is also tops amongst rookie forwards in average time on ice per game at 16:51. That top line, which also features Jordan Eberle
and Taylor Hall
, have combined for 10 goals and 26 points together. The rest of the team has combined for 7 goals and 22 points.
7 of the team's 17 goals have come on the powerplay, meaning that they're averaging basically 1 goal each game 5-on-5. There's not an NHL team that is scoring less than Edmonton right now, as the Oilers are the only group averaging less than 2 goals per game (1.89). The team misses Ales Hemsky
dearly, and will count on offensive contributions from Magnus Paajarvi
, Eric Belanger
and Sam Gagner
to kick in sometime soon.WHAT'S AHEAD
There's no question that the schedule for the Oilers is about to toughen up. October featured 11 games, with 8 of them on home ice at Rexall Place. 6 were against teams that made the playoffs last year, and 5 against teams that missed. In November, the schedule gets very compressed, with the team playing 14 games. They'll be on the road for 10 of those, including a 6 game road trip to start the month. All 6 of the games on that trip are against teams that made the playoffs a year ago.