The Edmonton Oilers had a much different start to the season than they did in 2021-22. There are a few reasons why that could be, including feeling the effects of a deeper playoff run and struggles on the back end and in net. The Oilers began last season 13-4-0 in their first 17 games as opposed to 9-8-0 this season. Though their record may be a little concerning for a team that was expected to be a Stanley Cup contender, there’s lots of time to improve and reasons they will do so.
Oilers’ Schedule Becomes Much Easier Moving Forward
The Oilers are now through their toughest stretch of the season where they had to play 13 playoff teams from last season in the last 16 games. From here on out, the Oilers only have to play consecutive games against playoff teams six more times. Five of those times are two games in a row and the other is four games. That is an extremely favourable schedule moving forward for a team that has now had the time to figure it out and get into the swing of the season.
The Oilers play 13 of their final 65 games (20 percent) against bottom-five teams in the NHL at this time. This doesn’t include the nine games remaining against four other teams expected to drop to the bottom of the standings or are already there (14 percent). Those teams would be the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, and Philadelphia Flyers. That is over 1/3 of the Oilers remaining games where they should be heavy favourites to win.
Oilers’ Elite Offence Drives Team
Much can be said about the defence and goaltending early this season, but the Oilers can consistently count on their offence to win them games. They rank sixth in the league in goals per game (3.53) and have the league’s top-two leading scorers. Though it isn’t expected that Connor McDavid would keep up his goal-per-game and two points-per-game pace, he will still lead the NHL in scoring by a fair margin. Leon Draisaitl was also playing at two points-per-game for a while to begin the season. Those two have played very few minutes together this season at 5-on-5, which speaks to their individual capabilities and the capabilities of the team’s top six.
There are two other Oilers who are also performing very well this season and are on pace for career years. They are Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Both players play in all situations and are effective in doing so. They also flank McDavid and Draisaitl on the top two lines, giving each of them a very good winger who is strong at both ends of the ice and can score.
Both Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins play a ton and rank fifth and sixth on the entire team in ice time per game. They have provided great secondary scoring and have done so at even strength, on the power play, and the penalty kill. Both could very well be 30-goal scorers this season and possibly finish at a point-per-game rate.
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The rest of the offence is sure to come around at some point. Evander Kane will be out a couple of months, but he was just as productive as Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins offensively. But there are two players in particular who have struggled greatly offensively and should be able to turn things around. Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto have both gotten a fair amount of time in the top six and have produced a combined one goal and six points. If they both can get out of their slumps and put up 15-20 goals and 35-40 points each, then that would greatly help the Oilers outscore their problems if those such problems remain.
Defence & Goaltending Bound to Improve
Speaking of the problems, Jack Campbell has taken a bit of time to adjust to his new team. I know everyone expected him to come into Edmonton and have the first half he did last season. However, there is a higher expectation on him this season as he was clearly named the starter. He also had some struggles later last season that may not have been fully addressed yet.
Through the first 10 games of his Oilers career, Campbell is 6-4-0 with a 4.27 goals against average and .873 save percentage. Those numbers are far lower than anything he’s had in his career and are bound to improve. The more Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson work with the defence and the team’s defensive system, the tighter they will play to reduce chances against. The skilled teams the Oilers have faced thus far compared to the talent of the teams they will face for the remainder of the season also plays a part. Playoff teams know how to score and do so more often than bottom-feeders.
The Oilers are a possession-driven team. They control play in the offensive zone, and when they do that successfully, score goals. But they are also plagued by the opponents controlling the puck in their defensive zone. They have a hard time turning the puck over and often lose coverage, resulting in high-danger scoring chances against. Right when Woodcroft and Manson were promoted from Bakersfield last season, the Oilers tightened up significantly defensively. As soon as they get back to that style of play and Campbell settles in, they will rise to the top of the league.
There are many teams struggling and some performing better than expected. Give the Oilers time and continue to support them at home games. It’s where they need the wins more than ever right now.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.