After suffering a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Rogers Place on Saturday March 5, the Edmonton Oilers have played 56 games, which is the length of the entire 2020-21 NHL regular season. It’s remarkable because if the 2021-22 season ended today, they wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs.
Coming into play Sunday, March 6, Edmonton was ninth in the Western Conference, one point behind the Dallas Stars for the last wildcard spot and two points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for third in the Pacific Division.
If it had been a year ago, the Oilers would have been cleaning out their lockers, facing questions about how a season that started out so promising had gone so far off the rails and how a team with so much potential had so grossly underperformed. . Again.
While crashing and burning in the first round of the playoffs last year, swept 4-0 by the Winnipeg Jets, the Oilers had a strong 2020-21 regular season, finishing second in their division with 72 points out of a 35-19-2 record. Now at the 56-game mark of their 2021-22 schedule, the Oilers are nowhere near that pace of a season ago, with 64 points off a 30-22-4 record.
Comparing Oilers teams from the past two years, it’s not hard to see why their 56-game point percentage has gone from .643 to .572. A look at the stats shows a regression in just about every aspect of the team’s performance.
The Oilers have seen a huge increase in goals against
While putting pucks in opposing nets at virtually the same rate (184 in 2021-22; 183 in 2020-21), the Oilers have been scored 26 more times this season, which equates to a huge increase in close 0.5 in goals against average (GAA). In 2020-21, Edmonton was tied for 11th in the NHL with an average of 2.75. This season, they are 22nd with an average of 3.21.
It’s not like Oilers goalies face a ton more rubber (31.46 shots per 60 minutes in 2021-22, up slightly from 30.58 per 60 last season), but they find themselves in more difficult situations and therefore have to make more difficult records with greater frequency.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Oilers have seen increases across the board in chances to score against per 60 minutes (from 27.76 in 2020-21 to 28.55 in 2021-22), scoring chance shots against per 60 (16.69 to 17.82), high danger odds against by 60 (10.49 to 11.54) and high danger shots against by 60 (7.64 to 8.59).
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As a result, the Oilers’ expected goals per 60 have dropped from 2.60 to 2.83, and the double whammy is that they don’t come anywhere close to what they were hoping for from No. 1 goaltender Mike Smith, who went 21-6-2 with an average of 2.31 and a save percentage (SV%) of 0.923 in 2020-21.
Injuries have limited Smith to just 15 games this season, and on the occasions he has been able to play, the 39-year-old keeper just hasn’t been good, going 5-8-1 with a 3.57 GAA and an SV of 0.891. %. His shortfall is even more pronounced given that 23-year-old Stuart Skinner has made major progress (6-6-0 with a 2.62 GAA and 0.913 SV% in 13 appearances after playing just one game in 2020 -21) and fellow veteran Mikko Koskinen is rolling with a 19-8-3 record, which is a huge jump in winning percentage from last season when he went to .500 (13- 13-0).
Oilers special teams slipped
The Oilers have allowed 42 shorthanded goals, which ranks them fourth in the NHL and 27and in the league with a 75.7% penalty kill. Last season, they allowed just 27 shorthanded goals and had the ninth shorthanded goal in the NHL at 82.5%.
The most incredible aspect of this slowdown is that it all happened in the last three months. On December 4, the Oilers were near the top of the overall standings with a 16-6-0 record and ranked second in the NHL with a penalty kill of 88.4%. Since then, they’ve allowed 34 power-play goals, a staggering average of one per game, and a 67.4% shorthanded, the worst in the league by far over that stretch.
Additionally, the Oilers’ power play slipped slightly from 48 goals and a 27.6% completion rate, the two best in the NHL, to 42 (third in the NHL) and 25.6% (fourth). ).
Lubricators Veterans do not produce at the same level
Edmonton’s top four point guards in 2020-21 have seen declines, some significantly: Connor McDavid from 105 points (1.88 per game) to 79 (1.44); Leon Draisaitl 84 (1.50)-79 (1.41), Tyson Barrie 48 (0.86)-23 (0.41); and Darnell Nurse from 36 (0.64) to 23 (0.41). In total, this foursome have recorded 204 points in 56 games this season, down more than 25% from the 273 they tallied in 2020-21.
Considering they’re tied for first place in the NHL points race, it would be absurd to criticize Draisaitl and McDavid for dwindling production, especially the latter, whose 105 points in 2020-21 were l one of the greatest offensive seasons in NHL history. However, it shows how much Edmonton needs its dynamic duo to play at an almost impossible level every night if the Oilers are to be among the best teams in the league. Even though they’ve had greater scoring depth this season, it hasn’t been enough to compensate for what’s happening at the other end of the ice.
The good news for the Oilers is that it’s not 2021 and there’s still time to turn things around. They have 26 games left to play, which, in the context of last year’s abbreviated schedule, is nearly half a season.
Really, all that matters is that the Oilers find their way into the playoff dance. Once they’re there, the previous 82 games won’t matter; just like the previous 56 games didn’t matter in 2021, a lesson they learned the hard way.
The Oilers return Monday, March 7 with a trip to the Scotiabank Saddledome where they will face the Pacific Division leaders Calgary Flames. They beat the Flames in the teams’ first two meetings this season.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports journalist and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sportscaster for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the 2013-14 Edmonton Oil Kings Memorial Cup championship season.