With 11 games now in the books, the Edmonton Oilers are practicing in Boston with a 9-2 record and looking pretty good in the Pacific Division. Their losses to the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers notwithstanding, this has been a fantastic start for a team that needed success early to show that a number of offseason moves were the right ones and that this is a team to contend with this season.
There are a few key takeaways from the first 11 games and some early positives. There are also a few concerns that the Oilers will hope to address and fix over the course of their next 11 contests and the rest of the 2021-22 season.
The Oilers’ Power Play
Edmonton’s power play is, simply put, deadly. It was sitting at 50% going into Tuesday’s game against Detroit and now sits at 46.9% after going 0-2 versus the Red Wings. On Tuesday it was the worst the man-advantage had looked and the only game the Oilers in which didn’t score a power-play marker so far this season. Still, Detroit probably feels as much that they dodged a bullet as they do that they played incredibly well on the penalty kill.
Teams aren’t just trying to avoid taking penalties against the Oilers, they’re actually afraid to because they know it can mean the difference between a win and a loss. More than one coach has said the single most important piece of their game plan was to stay out of the box and, even then, they’ve not been able to do so. When the Oilers get the chance, they make teams pay.
The five-man unit of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyson Barrie, and either Jesse Puljujarvi or Zach Hyman is scary good. That the Oilers can swap those players out with Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard, and others makes them even more of a threat. Wayne Gretzky said, “When I see these guys get on that 5-on-4 situation, it’s almost unfair.”
Shots Against Per Game
Depending on how much you read into shots per game as an indicator of a team’s success, the Oilers need to cut down the shots allowed. It’s been an issue all season and Tuesday’s first period with Stuart Skinner was the ultimate reminder that the Oilers can’t win every game by simply outscoring and out-chancing their opponents while ignoring the defensive end. As fun as the game against the New York Rangers was, this isn’t the 1980s.
Head coach Dave Tippett did say that some of the shots against are more like turnovers and there’s some truth to that. In fact, many people believe that scoring chances are the key statistic to keep and not shot totals. All that said, to let Skinner get peppered early in that game should be an indicator that the Oilers need to cut down on the looks they give their opposition.
That was a situation where they needed to be there for their young netminder. They weren’t. In fact, he needed to be there for them.
McDavid and Draisaitl Doing Their Thing
If you looked at the leaderboard in the NHL and didn’t follow the Oilers as much as diehard fans do, it would be hard to argue against the idea that this team still revolves around McDavid and Draisaitl. Admittedly, they have been incredible and 23 points each after 11 games is an insane level of production. Both could hit the 150-point marker this season and if they did, would anyone really be surprised?
The really positive news though is how much the rest of the roster is helping out. Nugent-Hopkins still leads the league in assists with 14 and Puljujarvi is in the top 35 in NHL goal-scoring with six goals. Hyman is in the Top 20 with seven and others have chipped in, even if some aren’t doing so as frequently as the coach might like.
The good news is, there are at least four or five legitimate 20-goal scorers on this team and this isn’t a team simply a group relying on Connor and Leon to be at their best all the time, even if the two players have taken it upon themselves to lead this team to their outstanding record.
The Offseason Additions
So far, Ken Holland is looking like a genius for the moves he made this offseason. Giving Puljujarvi a top-line role has worked out incredibly well. Hyman coming in and playing multiple roles in the Oilers’ top six has paid huge dividends early. Warren Foegele looks like a great top-nine add, Derek Ryan has fit like a glove at center, while Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci haven’t been nearly the disaster some fans expected based on their advanced analytics.
There are still questions in goal and Holland didn’t do anything to address that. In fairness, Mikko Koskinen has played extremely well considering how poor last season went for him and if Mike Smith wasn’t injured early, there might not be a conversation about the netminding right now. Even Skinner looked strong making multiple saves despite an ugly turnover on Detroit’s third goal of the game.
Overall, Holland will need to add, but that can come much later. This team should be a deadline buyer and knowing that so early in the season is great news. After 11 games, this has been among the better outcomes the Oilers could have hoped for. Not everything has been perfect and there are things to work on, but things are looking up in Edmonton and there are signs this could be a very good team for a long time.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”