Plenty of optimism around the Oilers as they sit third in the Pacific, winning their last two games and going 7-2-1 in their last ten. Their most recent win featured their fourth line scoring twice and a good performance from backup goaltender Mikko Koskinen.
Those two features right there – depth scoring and goaltending – should get a lot of attention for the rest of the season. We’ve known for some time now about how the Oilers struggle to break even (goal-wise and shot-wise) when McDavid isn’t on the ice, and it needs to be better if this team intends on contending for a championship. And finding a reliable back-up – who could not only give Talbot a rest but also potentially push for the starting position next season – is going to be critical for long-term success.
The Oilers most recent stretch of games has seen their overall goal differential improve as they’re finally getting production from their depth forwards.
Since their loss to Nashville on Hockey Night in Canada, the Oilers have played quite well – outscoring opponents 16-9 for a goal-share of 64.0% over seven games. I know I was pretty disappointed in that loss against Nashville; I felt like they had been getting lucky pushing teams like Winnipeg and Boston into overtime and looked so-so against the Predators. Plus I hate it when the Oilers lose on national games (even though I should be used to it by now). So it’s been a relief to see the team show some signs of life over the last couple of weeks.
As Darcy McLeod (@woodguy55) pointed out, the line of Draisaitl, Rieder and Chiasson has been outstanding. Over the last seven games, they’ve played just over 63 minutes together at even-strength (5v5), outscoring opponents 5-0. Their shot-share numbers have been solid as well, posting a 53.57% Corsi For percentage (proxy for possession) and a 56.57% Fenwick For percentage (proxy for scoring chances). This is a line that’s getting results and has the underlying numbers that indicate their success has a good chance of being sustainable.
The other trio that has shown some chemistry over a limited sample size at even-strength is Brodziak, Khaira and Kassian. Over the last seven games, they’ve played just over 42 minutes together, outscoring opponents 3-1 (75.0% goal-share). Their shot-share numbers together have been good as well – 59.77% Corsi For percentage and a 60.73% Fenwick For percentage. I’m not too surprised Khaira is having this success – he tends to do well when he can play center part-time with another center on his line. Kassian I feel like is the replaceable one here, and that if the team were able to move his contract and plug in someone like Cooper Marody, Khaira and Brodziak would still have success.
One thing I will add is that whoever the Oilers have on their third or fourth lines this season needs to be able to do some work on the penalty kill or powerplay. Right now the Oilers are running their top powerplay unit quite regularly with all five lefties (McDavid, Lucic, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom) averaging over four minutes per game at 5v4. Finishing a season averaging over four minutes per game is almost unheard of for forwards, with only a handful of guys doing that over the last five seasons. On top of that, Nugent-Hopkins and now Draisaitl are getting regular minutes on the penalty kill – something I can’t see continuing. The coach is running his go-to players on the powerplay and may have an issue trusting others considering how much pressure he’s under to win this season.
One quick note about Nugent-Hopkins: he’s killing it on the penalty kill (4v5). He’s third on the team in total ice time shorthanded and has yet to be on the ice for a goal against. The rate of shots and scoring chances against are at their lowest this year when he’s on the ice – and he’s a big reason why the Oilers as a whole are doing better at limiting shots-against this season compared to last season. I have a couple theories as to why this is happening, but still working through some data.
One player that’s seeing significant minutes this season and doing quite well is Oscar Klefbom. He ranks fourth in the league in average ice time among defencemen, only behind Doughty, Suter and Karlsson. Over the first 13 games, the Oilers have a 68.75% goal-share (11 GF, 5 GA), and a 55.11% Corsi-for percentage with him on the ice – both metrics rank Klefbom first on the Oilers among defencemen. The possession numbers are what surprises me most as he’s often out there against the best opponents and starts most often outside the offensive zone compared to his teammates. It’s usually a team’s third pairing defenceman that often leads a team in Corsi-for perecentage and other shot-share metrics as they tend to get easier opposition and start often in the offensive zone.
Worth noting too that Klefbom has not been riding McDavid’s coat-tails. Some quick stats from the first 13 games:
- McDavid with Klefbom (111 mins) – 55.08% CF%, 75.0% GF% (6 GF, 2 GA)
- McDavid without Klefbom (101 mins) – 45.94% CF%, 66.67% GF% (4 GF, 2 GA)
- Klefbom without McDavid (129 mins) – 55.17% CF%, 62.50% GF% (5 GF, 3 GA)
- Oilers without Klefbom or McDavid (271 mins) – 46.40% CF%, 35.0% (7 GF, 13 GA)
That second bullet of the team posting a 45.94% Corsi-for percentage with McDavid but without Klefbom is interesting. We know McDavid has superhuman talent, so the concern here should be that someone is dragging down McDavid or is not playing the complementary role very well. My first thought is it’s Nurse’s play impacting McDavid, as I don’t think he’s been very consistent, especially in his own zone. He has posted a 45.95% Corsi-for percentage this season, which is just ahead of Rusell as well as Benning who only up until recently been playing better. But it’s something to watch for on the Oilers blueline and its depth as I don’t think it’d be smart to overplay Klefbom.