Edmonton Oilers

Oil Check 5: Jay Woodcroft is still riding with Stuart Skinner

Now 28 games through the 2022–23 season, the Edmonton Oilers remain sixth in the Western Conference and fourth in the Pacific Division. The Oilers have improved their league ranking, moving up three spots to 15th league-wide with a 16–12 record. This revived record reflects a reduced strength of schedule SOS, as the Oilers now have a league average relative to the ninth-hardest schedule indicated in the previous Oil Check.

Also unchanged from the last Oil Check, the Oilers retain the first wild card spot but are still chasing the following interdivisional rivals, the Vegas Golden Knights, the Seattle Kraken, and the Los Angeles Kings, to achieve better playoff positioning.

The last six games shows some growth for the Oilers

Chicago5-4 W41250.840%0.878%423455.3%0/44/6
Minnesota3-5 L21300.833%0.857%374843.5%1/31/3
Montreal5-3 W22330.909%0.773%295036.7%3/51/3
Washington2-3 L30500.940%0.933%505448.1%0/12/3
Arizona8-2 W35180.889%0.771%452960.8%2/52/2
Minnesota5-2 W38440.955%0.892%504255.1%2/34/5
SF=Shots For, SA=Shots Against, EDM SV%=Edmonton Save Percentage, OPP SV%=Opponent Save Percentage, CF=Corsi For, CA=Corsi Against, C%=Corsi Percentage, PP= Powerplay, PK=Penalty Kill

Since the last Oil Check, the Oilers have played six games. In those six games, the Oilers have come away with a 4–2 record and a +9 goal differential. However, the past six games presented an opportunity for the Oilers to rectify issues against teams behind them in the standings, with only one in the division.

The Oilers have encountered a goaltending conundrum between recently signed long-term goalie Jack Campbell and rookie Stuart Skinner. In the past six games, Jay Woodcroft has elected to follow the hot hand approach when considering who minds the net, with Skinner receiving the bulk of the starts, five of the six, while Campbell received only one. Between the goalies, one has outplayed the other when considering statistical analysis, as Skinner (4–1) posted a .918 SV% and 2.80 GAA. Whereas Campbell (0–1) performed less admirably in his only game, posting an SV% of .833% and a 5.00 GAA.

In the five games Skinner started, there were only two games below a .900 SV%. However, in three of those five games, Skinner did give up at least three goals, though there could be a few explanations for this. First, although the Oilers are sticking with the hot hand, Skinner’s endurance could be beginning to falter. At the current split rate 28 games into the season, Skinner has tended the net in 16 of the 28 games, a pace that equivocates to 47 starts across an 82-game season. However, Skinner’s career high for games played is last season’s total of 48 games, split between the Oilers and the AHL affiliate, Bakersfield Condors. Secondly is the volume of shots given up by the Oilers, averaging 34 per game, three above the league average.

Oilers’ special teams are headed in opposite directions

The Oilers power play continues to work exceedingly well together, even with the injury of Evander Kane. In the past six games, the Oilers have converted eight of their 21 chances, resulting in a succession rate of 38%. This has moved the Oilers’ power play from third league-wide to now being the best-ranked among NHL teams ahead of the Colorado Avalanche and the Boston Bruins, succeeding 30.6% of the time.

However, regression did occur for the Oilers’ penalty-killing unit. Since the last Oil Check, the Oilers could only kill off 14 of 22 possible opportunities, resulting in a subpar 63.6% success rate. This has decreased the Oiler’s penalty-killing ranking league-wide from 26th to now sit 27th, only being able to not give up a special teams goal against 71.3% of the time.

Even strength play still requires improvement

As addressed before, the Oilers have even strength woes. By playing against weaker NHL teams, it was hypothesized that the Oilers would improve upon this metric when playing against inferior opponents. However, the results can be considered a mixed bag when reviewing the past six games.

The Oilers controlled the shot share in three of six games via Corsi Percentage (C%). These games of improved 5v5 play came against Chicago, Arizona, and Minnesota. Two of those teams, Chicago and Arizona, are teams that the Oilers followed through on the expectation that they are indeed the better NHL team and dominated at even strength, especially in the 8–2 win over the Coyotes. Moreover, it was a positive step forward to see the Oilers defeat the Minnesota Wild, a team the Oilers had lost seven straight games against and had been beaten down by a week earlier.

Not all the victories came with strong even strength play however. The performance in the first game against the Minnesota Wild and one of the two losses the Oilers sustained during this period of review, were a thorough beat down as the Oilers were beaten both physically (Ryan Reaves factor) and outchanced by shot and shot control metrics. The Oilers also came out flat against the Washington Capitals, who handed the team their other loss, and where the only reason they were given the chance of winning the game came courtesy of Skinner, who turned aside 47 of 50 shots.

Lastly, the Oiler’s worst even-strength performance came against the lower-ranked Montreal Canadiens, who outplayed, outshot, and thoroughly dominated the Oilers. The Canadiens were only to be beaten by the strength and success of the Oilers’ power play that was available to convert three out of five chances.

Injuries have allowed other players to find their role

There have been a few positive developments over the past six games. Due to the injury plague currently hitting the Oilers, the team has decided to move forward with the nuclear option of Connor McDavid, centering Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman. This line has performed very well together, as expected, as they currently are posting elite-level expected goals for percentage, indicating they control the shot quality metric and sustaining offensive pressure. With Draisaitl moving up alongside McDavid, it has allowed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to continue to improve upon his rebounded play and season, as he is on track to hit 97 points across an 82-game season.

Speaking of depth, it has provided the opportunity to reveal some of the talents within the Oilers system.

  • James Hamblin has been a pleasant surprise; though he has registered no points and primarily used in a depth role, Hamblin has posted a positive C%, the best over the past six games, and has won above 50% of his jobs.
  • Klim Kostin has emerged as a contributing depth player. Kostin has been impressive, whether the impact is on the scoresheet, using his skating and physicality to agitate the other team, or exhibiting a positive shot quantity control rate.
  • It was very good to see Kailer Yamamoto score his first of the season on an excellent tip play, hopefully providing a spark that leads to more sustained success and helps Yamamoto get on a roll.

Questionable moves by Woodcroft

There are two notable face-palmers to discuss that has developed over the recent two weeks. The first pertains to Woodcroft’s lack of confidence in Campbell. Especially considering the level of competition faced, Campbell did not see the ice after giving up five goals on 30 shots. Granted, Woodcroft’s favourability to Skinner may result from developing him in the minors. Still, not playing Campbell against either Montreal or Arizona, teams ranked 20th and 30th in the NHL via points percentage, rings alarm bells.

The second development requiring addressing outside of the penalty kill is the recent benching of Evan Bouchard. Bouchard ranks as the Oiler’s best defenceman in terms of XGF and Corsi%, implying that he is the best at controlling the shot quality and quantity when he is the Oilers’ blueline. However, his possible lack of accountability in his own end and laid-back approach may be the reasoning behind the drawn ire, as teams have been able to shoot without being interrupted when in front of the net, as well as errant turnovers and additional defensive miscues.

Oilers will soon face stronger defences and league-best goaltending

The Oilers still require improved even-strength play moving ahead. Although they were able to achieve this feat three of six times against lower-standing teams, this will need to continue to trend in the positive direction as they face the Minnesota Wild (again), St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks, and the Nashville Predators twice. The Oiler’s success hinges on their ability to mitigate chances against as they face teams with notable strong defences and elite goaltending, including Marc-Andre Fleury, Jake Oettinger, Juuse Saros, and Thatcher Demko.

Going forward, there are a few expectations before the next Oil Check in addition to the Oilers’ improved 5v5 play. As players begin to return from injury, such as Ryan McLeod, it can be expected to improve the overall depth and lengthen the lineup. Also, it will be interesting to see how youngsters Kostin and Hamblin continue to build upon their recent strong play and earn favor.

All stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com, MoneyPuck.com, and Hockeydb.com

Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire

Darnell Holt

Hello, my name is Darnell Holt. I am currently an employee in the finance sector, focusing on agriculture. My background includes holding two degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, a Master of Science in Agriculture Economics and a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Business. However, I am a small-town Alberta boy with a love for analytics and a massive fandom for anything sports, especially for my home province Edmonton Oilers.

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