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The Puck Stops Here

Oilers Dropping From Race

After two years of finishes in last place in the NHL it was nice to see the Edmonton Oilers sitting in a playoff spot in the early part of the season was a nice change.  The Oilers have a talented young core including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the likely rookie of the year, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.  It is clear that this group will likely develop into a good NHL team.  It is also clear that this isn’t the year it is going to happen.

The Oilers have won two of their last ten games.  They lost in regulation in the other eight.  This has gathered them four points in the ten game stretch and that is the worst any team in the league has done in that period.  The Oilers are two games into a seven game road trip that is necessitated by the World Junior Hockey Championships, which are being played in Alberta.  They are yet to win on the road trip and will likely not have good results in the rest of it.

The Edmonton Oilers are currently in the third last position in the West Conference.  They have 33 points and are seven points back of 12th place.  They are still well ahead of Anaheim and Columbus who sit beneath them.  After the road trip completes, I bet they will be closer to the teams beneath them then those above them. 

The least sustainable part of the Oilers early season success appears to be goaltending.  Nikolai Khabibulin has a .924 saves percentage currently, which is the highest value he has had in any season in his career.  It was significantly better than that in the early part of the season.  It is hard to imagine that a 38 year old goalie who struggled last season could do that well over a complete season and it appears he cannot.

The biggest issue for the Oilers is defence.  Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid have been their two most played defencemen and nobody mistakes them for all stars.  I think the Oilers will have more trouble keeping goals out of their net then scoring goals. 

The Edmonton Oilers are a team that likely has a solid future.  The future is not here yet.  Despite a good start to the season, they look to have fallen out of the playoff race.  Other indicators suggest they will continue to fall.  It was nice for suffering Oiler fans to get a chance to feel good about their team at the beginning of this season.

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I don’t really disagree with any of your insights about the Oilers’ problems on D or the unsustainability of Khabibulin’s play.

But I think it is interesting to note that, with 98 goals scored and only 97 conceded, Edmonton is one of only 11 teams with a positive goal differential through this point in the season. The Oilers are the 11th-best team in goal differential, even though their actual record places them in 26th.

I expect, as you do, that the defense and goaltending in Edmonton will likely be worse in the second half than the first, and their goal differential will swing negative.

But maybe the Oilers have been a little unlucky to only have 15 wins through 36 games to this point. So far, they’ve been pretty close to the middle of the pack in terms of both offense and defense, and their special teams units have been good.

A lack of participation in three-point games (the Oilers have only seen OT four times) and only one shootout win also hold the team back in the standings. In a “fair” world, the Oilers should probably still be close to the playoff bubble at this point, not a bottom-five team. I think they’ve genuinely outplayed a lot of teams that are now a bit ahead of them in the standings.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 12/30/11 at 10:00 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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