4 Takeaways From Jay Woodcroft’s First 25 Games as Oilers Head Coach

The Edmonton Oilers won for a record-tying ninth consecutive time at home on Friday when they defeated the St. Louis Blues 6-5 in overtime at Rogers Place, improving to 16-7-2 since Jay Woodcroft replaced Dave Tippett as head coach on Feb. 10.

Edmonton got two goals apiece from Zach Hyman and Connor McDavid, who scored the game-winner 1:11 into sudden death. Evander Kane had a goal and two assists for a team-leading three points, and Leon Draisiatl picked up a pair of assists to move to within one point of his third 100-point season.

Related Link: Oilers’ Draisaitl and McDavid Can Reach Milestones Before Season Ends

Based solely on wins and losses, Woodcroft’s first 25 games with the Oilers have been a tremendous success. This was, after all, a team that endured an extended slump when it won just seven times in 23 games over a course of 10 weeks leading up to Tippett’s dismissal. So what’s behind the turnaround?

Koskinen and Smith Sharing the Crease

Woodcroft has split goaltending duties between Mike Smith, who played Friday, and Mikko Koskinen. Since the new coach took charge, Koskinen has 13 starts, Smith has 11, and Stuart Skinner has one.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Over that span, Koskinen is 9-2-1 with a 3.01 goals-against average (GAA) and .906 save percentage (SV%). Smith, meanwhile, has gone 6-5-1 with a 3.25 GAA and .896 SV%. However, in the last 10 games, Smith is 3-1-1 with a 3.26 GAA and .901 SV% while Koskinen is 4-1-0 with a 3.83 GAA and .980 SV%.  

Neither goalie has been particularly great for an extended run, as the Oilers continue to get subpar goaltending at times exacerbated by less-than-stellar defensive play. Yet, Edmonton has been finding ways to win, often by simply outscoring their troubles at the other end of the ice (Edmonton has erupted for five or more goals in seven of the last 10). Moreover, while Koskinen nor Smith has proven capable of maintaining high-level play, one of them has usually been on his game when the other has not. Woodcroft thus far has known which goalie to turn to on any given night.

Oilers Making Home Ice Advantageous

The Oilers are now on their longest home winning streak since the 2016-17 season when they won their final nine games of the regular season at Rogers Place to establish a franchise record. They now have a chance to set a new benchmark with a 10th consecutive home victory when they play at Rogers Place on April 9 against the league-leading Colorado Avalanche.

Before this 9-0-0 run, the Oilers had gone just 5-11-0 in their previous 16 outings at Rogers Place. Edmonton is now 11-2-0 at home under Woodcroft and 9-1 since full-capacity crowds have returned to Rogers Place following the lifting of pandemic restrictions that had limited attendance.

Given how well they’re performing in front of their fans, the Oilers will want to play at home as much as possible. The more they win at Rogers Place, the better their chances are of finishing in the top two in the Pacific Division to secure home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. Edmonton is currently third in the Pacific, three points back with two games in hand of the second-place Los Angeles Kings.

Oilers Playing with Lead More Often

Edmonton was allowing the first goal of the game with such frequency that it had seemingly become accepted by the team. In 44 games with Tippett behind the bench, Edmonton allowed their opponents to strike first nearly three-quarters of the time, falling behind on 32 occasions. Since Woodcroft’s arrival, the Oilers have opened the scoring in 13 of 25 games, including eight of the last 11.

Jay Woodcroft Edmonton Oilers
Jay Woodcroft, Edmonton Oilers head coach (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Sure it’s just one goal that usually comes early in the game, but its importance to Edmonton shouldn’t be understated. While the Oilers have shown the ability to rally, going 16-23-5 when trailing first, they are nearly untouchable when it’s the opponent who’s playing catch-up. When scoring first, Edmonton is 23-2-0 for a win percentage of .920 ranking first in the NHL by a large margin.

Oilers Special Teams’ Percentages Improve

The Oilers have a 77.4 penalty-kill percentage since Woodcroft’s first game on Feb. 10, ranking 17th in the NHL in that span. That’s not great, but it represents significant progress from their 63.3% PK rate between Dec. 5 and Feb. 9, Tippett’s final 22 games. Edmonton is 15/16 killing penalties over its last five games.

Meanwhile, after sagging somewhat, Edmonton’s power-play is once again converting at a high percentage, going six for 13 in the last five games.

Edmonton has 13 games remaining on its schedule beginning with a visit to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. If their positive trends continue, the Oilers will not only be back in the postseason for a third consecutive year, they may find themselves with a higher playoff seed than many thought likely not even two months ago.

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