Still Looking For Solutions

Nine games after I wrote my first Looking for Solutions piece at 10% through the season, I’m back here again continuing the search.

At the time of the last piece, we were sitting 2-5-1, the goaltending looked terrible, the Penalty Kill looked even worse, and none of our players could put a puck in the net. Has anything changed? We’re now 6-9-2, going 4-4-1 since then, our PK still looks terrible, players can’t score but our goaltending has improved. So, the Oilers have fixed one of the three problems we had 10% through the season and it’s resulted in 0.500 hockey. Maybe when the other two issues are fixed we’ll be a winning team.

Since the 2005-2006 season, only six teams have made the playoffs after being 4 points or more out as of November 1st. I’m sure you’ve heard this stat before, everyone likes to throw it around at this time of year. The narrative usually revolves around showing evidence that there isn’t parity in the league and that the loser point has made it hard to catch up to other teams throughout the next 6 months. I’m not questioning whether or not that belief is true, I’m actually outright denying it.

To be four points out by November is a terrible start. This is a league that gives you points for losing, has a salary cap, and relies on most of its goals coming from lucky bounces. When you’re four points out by November, missing the playoffs has little to do with the difficulty of making up points in the standings and a lot more to do with being a terrible team. The only 6 teams have done it makes it sound dire and — in my eyes — intentionally misleads the reader (Pet peeve). Sure only 6 teams have done it, but there have only been 52 teams — out of a possible 330 — over that time to start that bad in the first place. Teams like this years Coyotes, the Sabres multiple times, the Oilers back in the dark ages, the Panthers when they were perennially lottery teams. Ask yourself, was a bad start really the problem with those teams?

Six teams of those 52 still made the playoffs. That’s 11.5% of them. When you look at the standings in November and see a team near the bottom that probably shouldn’t be there, there’s a really good chance you’re right. It’s not hard to make up those points, it’s just that most good teams don’t start that bad in the first place. I’m pretty quick to put the Oilers into the category of likely adding to the 11.5%. Lets take a look at the two remaining problems and if they can be solved.

The Penalty Killing is our biggest weakness right now. We can’t get a save, we can’t clear the puck, and hell, we can barely make a box. We’re an abysmal 71.4% at killing penalties. That also includes a games vs New Jersey where we looked terrible, gave up a ton of chances but managed to get through without allowing a goal. Last night against the Capitals we saw some new things like Leon Draisaitl out there on the PK. It was successful, we managed to kill off the only opportunity and didn’t look terrible in the process. It’s places like this where we really miss Benoit Pouliot. Another credit to our pro-scouts. Last night was encouraging on this front, but I’m not even close to wave my hand and call this issue anywhere close to solved. The 5v4 goaltending might get better, but it needs help stopping the cross-crease passes. This is either going to require trying new guys on the PK, or trading for one. Chiarelli isn’t bad at a trade for a need like this, he’s only bad at ones that involve star players.

The real elephant in the room, the cause of most of our lost points, and the issue that should not be an issue with this team. We can’t score goals. We’re dead last with 38 goals for, we’re dead last with 2.24 goals per game, and beyond out top two lines, we aren’t getting any worthwhile production. With a team that boasts Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom and Leon Draisaitl, being in this position is completely unacceptable. The encouraging thing here, is that we still have the 3rd most shots per game. The offense is there, it’s just not finishing. The whole season has been this way. Patrick Maroon last night getting 5 shots on Braden Holtby point blank and none going in is what we’ve come to expect this season.

RNH has been great this year, both defensively and offensively with 12 points in 17 games. Lucic has 10 points in 17 games, putting him on pace for ~50 points this year. I know we like to point at his contract and say it’s bad, but at the moment it’s not. The term is definitely too long, but at the moment he’s producing like a six-million-dollar player. Hopefully a compliance buyout or an LTIR bury fixes the contract when it becomes an issue.

Patrick Maroon is a guy I look to and say ‘this can’t last’. He’s scoring on 9.1% of his shots. That sounds pretty good, it’s about league average. The league average player however, does not play with Connor McDavid. Maroon has had 44 shots this year putting him on pace to shatter his career high of 178 last year with 220 this year. I’m pretty confident he’s going to get some goals.

As for the others, against my predictions, Jesse Puljujarvi has looked really good in his first two games. He had a goal and a lot of shots in his first game and made good plays the second game in the offensive zone. Hockey sense has always been the biggest problem for this player and he’s proving doubters (like me) that he might have what it takes to help this team win. If he can come in and score 20 goals this year, it will help the team immensely. I’m not all hand on Yessa yet, but I’ll start being cautiously optimistic with him. Just remember, it’s only two games.

In the end, I don’t think the team is going to continue only scoring on 6.3% of its shots. Last time I wrote about this we were at 4.9%, so this problem is starting to solve itself. There are no quick fixes available to start scoring more goals but I’m still confident that this issue will improve without adding much.

The team went 2-1-1 on the road trip. That’s 1.24 points per game. If the Oilers can continue that the rest of the season, they’ll make the playoffs. Next test is against Vegas tomorrow and my bold prediction for the next 8-9 games is that we’ll be looking like a good team, scoring lots of goals, and ahead of the Canucks in the standings.

P.S. It might be a good time to take to social media and let Chiarelli know that Ryan Murray isn’t a solution.

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