Home > Uncategorized > Oilers’ winning 4 out of 5 ain’t bad . . . but is it good?

Oilers’ winning 4 out of 5 ain’t bad . . . but is it good?

The Associated PressEdmonton Oilers forward Matt Hendricks, right, celebrates his go-ahead goal with linemate Boyd Gordon during third-period NHL action against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday in Buffalo. Hendricks' goal, on a shorthanded breakaway, stood up as the winner in Edmonton's 3-2 victory. The Oilers seem to be making strides, winning four of their last five games.

The Associated Press
Edmonton Oilers forward Matt Hendricks, right, celebrates his go-ahead goal with linemate Boyd Gordon during third-period NHL action against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday in Buffalo. Hendricks’ goal, on a shorthanded breakaway, stood up as the winner in Edmonton’s 3-2 victory. The Oilers seem to be making strides, winning four of their last five games.

The Edmonton Oilers are on a roll — at least in terms of recent results.

They have won four of their last five games — including a stretch of three straight — for only the second time this season, on both fronts. The Oilers have yet to win four in a row or even five out of six, so they could raise their success bar with another victory Thursday night in New York against the host Rangers.

That would, all things considered, be a step in the right direction.

Yet, with the team stuck in second-to-last place overall and, by most estimations, mathematically out of playoff contention heading into the Olympic break, the fan base is struggling to get excited over these little (in the big picture) breakthroughs. And understandably so, having already come to grips with missing the post-season for an eighth straight spring.

Owner Daryl Katz attempted to sugarcoat that reality with last month’s sympathy letter but, reality is, patience and optimism are wearing thin in Oil Country.

Taking a closer look at the last five games won’t exactly rally the troops. Removing the copper-coloured glasses, it’s plain to see the Oilers aren’t making much in the way of forward progress — contrary to what those outcomes suggest.

Have they been playing better as of late? Sure. Kind of. I guess. But, by no means is that answer a resounding yes.

Expanding that window to eight games, which would encompass three consecutive one-goal losses, it’s impossible to argue that Edmonton isn’t making improvements and becoming more competitive on a nightly basis.

However, even with the win “streak”, this mirage hasn’t been all that impressive.

The Canadian PressEdmonton Oilers forward David Perron celebrates his goal much to the chagrin of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa and goaltender Roberto Luongo during NHL action in Vancouver last Monday. Perron scored a hat trick and Edmonton prevailed 4-2.

The Canadian Press
Edmonton Oilers forward David Perron celebrates his goal much to the chagrin of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa and goaltender Roberto Luongo during NHL action in Vancouver last Monday. Perron scored a hat trick and Edmonton prevailed 4-2.

Two of the victories were thanks to outstanding individual performances: David Perron’s second career hat trick and first as a member of the Oilers — ironically, both coming against the Vancouver Canucks — and newcomer Ben Scrivens’ NHL-record 59-save shutout in stonewalling the visiting San Jose Sharks.

From a “total team effort” standpoint, the best of the bunch was last Sunday’s 5-1 home win over the Nashville Predators. Edmonton was full marks for that one, but lest we forget, the Predators aren’t an upper-echelon team and their top goalie (Pekka Rinne) has been sidelined for most of the season with a hip infection.

The Oilers exposed his temporary placeholder Carter Hutton — who got the start ahead of Edmonton castoff Devan Dubnyk — and Dallas Eakins used last change to shelter the kid line from Shea Weber at times, which also helped matters.

That said, the Oilers were still outshot 35-27, so the scoreboard was a bit misleading in the end.

The same can be said for Edmonton escaping with a 4-2 road decision at Vancouver last Monday, which saw Perron dominate with three goals, including an empty-netter to seal the deal.

The Canucks outshot the Oilers by the same margin, 27-20, but experienced an emotional letdown coming off their dust-up with the Calgary Flames two nights earlier. This happened to be Vancouver’s first of what amounted to six games without the services of head coach John Tortorella (suspension) and captain Henrik Sedin (rib injury). And the Canucks were already reeling en route to finishing the month of January with a miserable 4-9-1-1 record. They continued to cling to the Western Conference’s final wild-card playoff spot following Tuesday’s action — just one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes, but still 19 clear of the lowly Oilers.

So give Edmonton credit for capitalizing on Vancouver’s misfortune in this contest, but don’t sing the praises too loud for squeaking out its first ‘W’ in three tries this season against a superior-but-slumping rival.

For those wondering, Perron previously turned the trick in a 6-1 thumping of the Canucks back on Nov. 10, 2009 during his third NHL season with the St. Louis Blues, who traded Perron to Edmonton this past summer in a 1-for-1 steal of a swap for Magnus Paajarvi.

Ed Kaiser/Edmonton Journal Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens makes a breakaway save on San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau during NHL action at Rexall Place in Edmonton last Wednesday. Scrivens set a new NHL-record with a 59-save shutout in Edmonton's 3-0 win.

Ed Kaiser/Edmonton Journal
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens makes a breakaway save on San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau during NHL action at Rexall Place in Edmonton last Wednesday. Scrivens set a new NHL-record with a 59-save shutout in Edmonton’s 3-0 win.

Scrivens, who could prove to be rookie general manager Craig MacTavish’s other big coup, was acquired last month from the Los Angeles Kings for a token third-round pick in this June’s draft. The 27-year-old Spruce Grove product now has four shutouts on the season — tied for second among NHL leaders — but this was also a first for him as an Oiler. Not to mention a historic accomplishment.

The Oilers had no business beating the Sharks 3-0 that night. Granted, they were opportunistic in the offensive zone, but it should have been a 6-3 defeat at best if not for Scrivens’ heroics.

He followed that up with a 37-save showing in a 4-0 setback to the big, bad Boston Bruins in Beantown bright and early Saturday morning. Do the math and Scrivens stopped 96 of 100 shots in just two starts — yes, 96 per cent of the pucks he faced — which is certainly more of a credit to him than his teammates.

Even in Edmonton’s most recent triumph — if you can call it that — the Oilers were badly outshot, 44-28, but edged the host Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in a battle between the league’s two worst teams.

This wasn’t good hockey. It was sloppy and short on highlights. Edmonton’s power play, which has been Jekyll-and-Hyde all season, was as awful as ever — surrendering its league-high 10th shorthanded goal of the season in the process.

It was painful to watch in certain parts and almost resembled beer league at other moments, such as when Perron slid on his belly in a failed bid to get back onside or when Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth grossly overplayed a breakaway move by Matt Hendricks that held up as the winning goal.

Not to take anything away from Hendricks, who has been another pleasant addition and brings a lot of what the Oilers were lacking in their bottom-six forwards, but he’s not a goal-scorer by trade. He’s never hit double-digits in a five-year NHL career to date, though he does have a few dangles up his sleeve and has been dubbed somewhat of a “shootout specialist” from his past stints in Washington and Nashville. But this was in regulation, off a shorthanded rush to be precise, so Enroth was left looking fairly foolish or amateurish in the aftermath as Hendricks celebrated his second goal since joining the Oilers in exchange for Dubnyk on Jan. 15 — the same day Edmonton landed Scrivens from L.A.

Not to rain on the parade, but rewind Monday’s game to insert regular Sabres starter Ryan Miller between the pipes and, chances are, we’re singing a different tune — something to the effect of ‘three steps forward, two steps back’.

Instead, everything appears hunky-dory and we’re blasting the ballad ‘4 out of 5 ain’t bad’ — or was it 2 out of 3 ain’t bad?

Regardless, Edmonton again found a way to win and there is something to be said for that. At the end of the day, this mini-run has to be viewed in a positive light, that the Oilers are finding the win column — some way, somehow.

However, realistically speaking, don’t expect that trend to last much longer.

It must be reiterated that although Edmonton has won four of its last five, it has been outshot in all five — by as few as seven and as many as 32 for a stunning-or-shameful combined total of 82 (206-124). Therefore, my trusty calculator tells me the opposition has averaged — I repeat, averaged — 16.4 more shots on goal per game than the Oilers over that span.

To predict prolonged success with shot discrepancies like that would be, for lack of a better term, silly. Well, asinine, really.

The law of averages, the underworld of advanced stats and, last but not least, common sense all indicate this pendulum is bound to swing back in favour of the bad guys sooner than later.

Some will counter that the Toronto Maple Leafs have made a habit of winning despite consistently getting outshot. They will also be sure to remind us that Scrivens was a product of that environment just last season, before he was shipped off to Hollywood in the summer trade that brought Jonathan Bernier to Toronto. But rest assured, the Leafs are the exception — not the rule. And, historically, allowing opponents to run up the shot-clock is a recipe for disaster — not success.

Sean Rudyk/Getty Images Edmonton Oilers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov braces for an incoming shot as teammates Andrew Ference, left, and Nick Schultz defend against Cody Hodgson and the Buffalo Sabres during NHL action in Buffalo on Monday. The Oilers won 3-2, thanks in large part to Bryzgalov's 42 saves.

Sean Rudyk/Getty Images
Edmonton Oilers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov braces for an incoming shot as teammates Andrew Ference, left, and Nick Schultz defend against Cody Hodgson and the Buffalo Sabres during NHL action in Buffalo on Monday. The Oilers won 3-2, thanks in large part to Bryzgalov’s 42 saves.

Ultimately, this statistical evidence speaks volumes about the quality of goaltending Edmonton has been getting from both Scrivens and Ilya Bryzgalov, who backstopped the victories over Vancouver and Buffalo.

If — or, inevitably, when — either of them slips up, Edmonton will probably be in for another serving of humble pie. That force-feeding could be on the menu as early as Thursday against the red-hot Rangers, who have won four straight and seven of their last 10.

The Oilers then have a quick turnaround to close out their pre-Olympic schedule with Friday’s stop in New Jersey to face the Devils.

Wish them luck — they might very well need it . . . again!

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