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Tencer's Blog: The Next Steps

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Despite a 29th place finish, the Oilers greatly improved some stats from 2010-11 season (Photo by Andy Devlin EOHC).

From a strictly results-based perspective, the improvement that the Edmonton Oilers made in 2011-12 from the season prior doesn't seem like a lot: 7 more wins, 12 more points and 1 position higher in the NHL Standings. Of course we saw great things on an individual level from Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jeff Petry, Devan Dubnyk and others, but the improvement by the team as a whole wasn't enough to have them competitive after January.

Does this mean the season was a failure? Judging solely by results, the answer is an easy yes. Though nobody in their right mind had imagined the team making the playoffs, it was certainly realistic to expect at least a little bit more improvement in the standings than we ended up seeing. I, for example, had hoped to see them register something like 37 wins and 6 or 8 OT losses to get up over the 80 point barrier. They came within striking distance of that, but fell short. In post-season conversations, both Taylor Hall and Shawn Horcoff used the word "failure" in describing the season.

That all said, I do believe the team made significant progress over the course of the season, and I believe it sets them up nicely to take a run at the post-season next year. There are 4 key team statistics that were greatly improved in 2011-12 from where they were in 2010-11:

Powerplay: 20.6%, 3rd in the NHL. Up from 14.5%, 27th in the NHL.

Penalty kill: . 82.4%, 14th in the NHL. Up from 77.0%, 29th in the NHL.

Goals for: 207, 19th in the NHL. Up from 191, 27th in the NHL.

Goals against: 232, 23rd in the NHL. Up from 260, 28th in the NHL.

Those statistics, particularly the special teams ones, are pretty dramatic improvements. Though they only finished one place higher in the standings, this team was miles ahead of the group a year ago in a number of critical areas. Though they didn't result in enough wins to stay competitive this season, I believe those improvements provide a nice springboard to success next season.

In the Eastern Conference this season the Ottawa Senators made the playoffs at 92 points after finishing with 74 a year ago. Since we can expect the playoff cut line to be a bit higher in the West, the Oilers would need to improve by approximately 20 points to make the playoffs next season. Where will those wins come from?

There are obvious things like: a better 1st half from Devan Dubnyk and a better 2nd half from Nikolai Khabibulin, more 5-on-5 scoring (Oilers were 22nd in NHL), at least one significant addition to the defense, more consistency from the veteran forwards etc.

But, I'd like to boil it down a little bit more specifically than that. Again, the question: where will the wins come from? For me, the answer is simple: more poise in the 3rd period. The 2011-12 Edmonton Oilers made a habit of letting go of crucial points by not being able to handle the heat that comes along with a close game in the final frame.

They had a record of 24-3-2 when leading after 2 periods. That seems pretty good, right? It's not bad, but think of those 5 losses. That's a total of 8 points that the Oilers surrendered in games where they had a lead in the 3rd period. If that doesn't seem like a lot, consider that only 1 playoff team (Florida), gave up more than that and still made it. In fact, only 7 teams in the league surrendered more points when leading after 40 minutes. Holding a lead in the 3rd period is absolutely essential.

Perhaps even more essential in terms of Oilers improvement is being able to score a timely goal. The statistic that sticks out more blatantly to me than any other this season is their record in games that are tied in the 3rd period. All square, next goal wins types of tilts. The Edmonton Oilers played in 21 of these games. They won 4, posting a record of 4-13-4. Of 42 points that were available to the Oilers playing in tied games in the 3rd period, the managed to pick up only 12. If they had simply managed to go .500 in those games, they'd have had 9 more points banked in the standings.

There are a lot of different ways that the management and coaching staff of the team can draw up the road map to improve next season, but the destination point on the map is obvious: make the group more competitive in 3rd periods if you want to make the playoffs.

You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED. Follow Dan on Twitter | @dantencer

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