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The Puck Stops Here

An Unsustainable Stat

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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The Oilers have been doing it mainly as a team. A lot more shot blocking, from Smid, Sutton and Gilbert etc. More of a commitment to team defense led by Horcoff Belanger (faceoffs) Lander and RNH.  This is also signified by their low goal totals on the offense. Also their goaltending has improved sharply. (This never hurts) Funny how they work together.
Can it last? Likely what will happen, with all young teams, they will lose their share of 1 goal low scoring games and win their share of fiewagon hockey where they forget they have a goalie at the other end. In otherwords, about .500, with maybe 5-10 so/ot losses. Near a playoff spot but maybe just a little short in the end. A lot of good has to happen for this team today to beat out the current playoff contenders.

Posted by rich from white rock bc on 10/24/11 at 03:49 PM ET


I completely agree; however, not mentioning the other opposite is a little misleading especially for someone who is so eager to dig into the stats.

There obviously is no sustainability in the Oilers defensive numbers, but the very same could be said about their offensive output no?

You have built a case as to why it’s unsustainable defensively, but you rather coyly breeze by that with the mentioning they have scored the fewest goals in the league. Pretty black and white, but if you had done some more digging you’d find a reason as to why. They aren’t going to shoot the lights out, but I think the offensive mean will/should tilt a little more in their favour.

A low shooting percentage has actually been a trend for the Oilers as a whole early this season.  Despite respectable shot totals, the team is averaging just 1.71 goals per game, the lowest total in the NHL.  Their 6.13%shooting clip is also good for last in the NHL.  It is unreasonable to expect that to continue for much longer.

From the Jonathan Willis at the Cult of Hockey, http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2011/10/24/snakebitten-eberle-and-paajarvi-due-for-goals/

A race to the bottom when(notice I said when not if) the defensive numbers change? Quite possible, but if they score to any reasonable modicum, they’ll probably be fading to the bottom third?

Posted by DKM on 10/24/11 at 06:58 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Edmonton didn’t score last year.  They had the worst offence in the West Conference last year.  Their lack of offence is probably sustainable.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/24/11 at 08:39 PM ET



I absolutely agree, but what is the norm shooting percentage for the Oilers even with their deplorable goals for?

I think that’s the (fair) question no????

Posted by DKM on 10/24/11 at 09:38 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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