by PuckStopsHere on 10/24/11 at 01:47 PM ET
It is still early in the season but we are reaching a point where many early season trends are likely to be significant enough to show up in the final results. Some of the numbers posted look likely to last all season, but others seem likely to fade as the season progresses. Perhaps the least sustainable number is the Edmonton Oilers goals against. Edmonton had the third worst goals against per game last year of 3.17. This year they have the second best total in the league at 1.43. This is a 55% improvement from last season. This has been done without any significant changes in personnel.
Last year, Nikolai Khabibulin struggled. He posted a 3.40 GAA and an .890 saves percentage last season. So far this year his numbers are among the league leaders with an 0.72 GAA and a .969 saves percentage. Devan Dubnyk has also improved from .916 and 2.71 to .920 and .931.
On defence, Cam Barker, Tom Gilbert and Ladoslav Smid have led in playing time. Gilbert and Smid played a lot last year and are not stars. Barker is new to the team and he has never shown himself to be a star either. The defence doesn’t have the talent to explain such an improvement in goals against.
The Oilers goaltending is likely unsustainable. At age 38 it is unlikely that Nikolai Khabibulin can keep up his top numbers. He hasn’t posted very good numbers since arriving in Edmonton in 2009. Most people had written him off for this season and beyond. He didn’t appear to have anything left. He probably won’t hold up over a full season, but so far he has been very good.
Goaltending alone doesn’t explain everything. The Oilers shots against has improved from a below average 31.7 per game to an above average 26.4 per game. This shows defensive improvement. I have trouble seeing a reason for it. The Oilers do not have personnel changes to explain a defensive improvement. They do not have top players back from injury. They have an influx of young talent. Typically young players take time to develop into top defensive players, but the opposite is what we have seen here so far. Most likely this improvement is not sustainable.
The Oilers have not been a top team this season despite their top defence. They haven’t been bad, but they are not a top team. Currently they sit in ninth place in the West Conference with 8 points in seven games. Their 13 goals for is the worst in the conference. They have the lowest goals per game in the league.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the team’s top scorer with five goals and seven points. The Oilers only have six players who have scored a goal so far this season. If it was not for the unsustainably good goals against, this Oiler team would be in the race for last place in the league.
The Edmonton Oilers have been one of the top defensive teams in the league this year. This is brought about by a decrease in shots against and an unexpected resurgence from Nikolai Khabibulin. I do not see how it can last. Their lack of goal scoring is problem that sustains from last year. If the goal prevention stops, this team should fall quickly in the standings.
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