by Lisa McRitchie on 01/29/12 at 07:00 PM ET
Nothing happens as quickly as we would like it to. The week is too long, and the weekend too far away. A vacation is never long enough and again always seems much too far away. And so for the Edmonton Oilers, once again being a contender seems much too far away.
The rebuild has or hasn’t been rolling along according to plan, depending on who you speak to. The wins haven’t exactly been piling on top of one another and it’s not as though the revolving door to the infirmary has been immobilized. But, there have been some positives, something more that can be discussed beyond whether or not Tom Renney and Steve Tambellini should be replaced this off-season.
The past two seasons have been all new lows for the Edmonton Oilers, and many would consider this season to be much the same. However, if you look beyond the wins and losses, there are some small improvements being made. Small, but steady improvements.
In 2009-10, the goals against per game average was 3.39 and a total of 278. The following year it had slipped to 3.17 and a total of 260. This season after 49 games, the Oilers are at 2.96 and a total of 145. While those numbers alone may not seem all that impressive, the current goals against stats have the Oilers at 18th. The best, St, Louis is 1.96 and the worst is Tampa Bay with 3.38 and so the difference between worst and first is not as large as one might think.
It is not only the goals against average that is getting better for the Oilers, but also the power play and the penalty kill. For the 2009-10 season the Oilers’ penalty kill was 26th in the league with 78% and the power play was surprisingly 18th at 17.3%.
Last season, the Oilers fell in both categories. The penalty kill was ranked 29th at 77% and the power play 27th, successful only 14.5% of the time. This season, the Oilers are 3rd in the league with a power play that is 21.3% effective. The penalty kill is still in the bottom half of the league, but just barely, at 16th and 82.2%.
What is most shocking about the Oilers’ power play has to be that the team has done so well overall with Eric Belanger typically on the man advantage. Belanger has struggled with offence this year with only 1 goal and 9 assists through 46 games. Then of course there is the fact that his -13 puts him nearly last on the team, second from the bottom only to captain Shawn Horcoff. Belanger’s 57.7% faceoff wins seems to be his only saving grace.
Win are certainly what the team would like to see improve at this point, but unfortunately the win column will be the final place the team will see the results of their improvements.
There are 33 games remaining in the Oilers’ schedule and although they will not make the playoffs as I had hoped this season, there is reason to doubt that they will finish 29th or even 30th this season. Of the remaining 33 games, 13 are against current non-playoff teams. Of course those games could very likely be losses. The remaining 20 may be the biggest surprises. After all, the Oilers very nearly beat the Vancouver Canucks just last week in a game that the team stood no right to win.
You must also take into account the fact that Ryan Whitney, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall have returned to the lineup. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Cam Barker and Tom Gilbert are to return shortly, and Nugent-Hopkins and Gilbert could in fact be in the starting lineup for Tuesday night’s game against the Canucks.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stood an excellent chance at winning the Oilers’ first ever rookie of the year award this season before injuring his shoulder in a one man collision with the boards. There is still a good chance that Nugent-Hopkins could pick up where he left off. Currently Nugent-Hopkins leads the pack with only a single assist over Adam Henrique. Both rookies have 13 goals while Henrique has played 43 games and Nugent-Hopkins has played the least NHL games of all of the rookies with 38. As often as it has been said, it should be repeated; Nugent-Hopkins is going to be a great player.
There are still several reasons to question the Oilers management and coaching staff. After all, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins landed in their laps after abysmal seasons. But, there is reason enough to hold out a little more patience for this team. There have been improvements; this is a better team than past years, and there are still several question marks and players that will be moved.
Sadly at this point of the rebuild, it’s still all about the little improvements and victories.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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