It's been a positive start for the Edmonton Oilers under new coach Jay Woodcroft.
With a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, Edmonton improved to 7-3-0 under the former farmhand and moved back into the eighth seed in the NHL's Western Conference.
Its only losses have come to Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Carolina, for what it's worth.
As it always is with the Oilers, there should be some reluctance to draw firm conclusions — especially from a highly limited 10-game sample. But it is worth digging into the details since the switch to Woodcroft to at least explore whether or not the Oilers are better off and can indeed salvage the season.
For the most part, the numbers are encouraging. Edmonton has outscored the underlying data, unsustainably claiming just short of 60 percent of the total goals. That's several points above what's expected, naturally, but the Oilers have earned a greater share than the opponents and have deserved to win games and gain ground in the standings overall.
As is the case with many small samples, or streaks that can be considered hot or cold, teams spend less time in what would be considered normal on-ice conditions.
For example, while the Oilers were labouring through the final two months of Dave Tippett's abbreviated third season at the helm, they spent more time trailing than all but two others teams. They found themselves in that spot primarily because they couldn't get saves early in games, but it also undoubtedly contributed to the Oilers piling up better underlying numbers when compared to the first half of the season based on the fact that they were constantly chasing games.
Running counter, Edmonton had deficits in most shot-based metrics in its 16-6-0 start over the first half under Tippett in large part because it played with the lead longer than more than two thirds of the league.
What's interesting about the last 10 games is that they are spending lots of time leading and lots of time trailing — fifth-most, in fact, in each category. On balance, the numbers are better than they were at either extreme under Tippett.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest change has been in net. Edmonton's netminders have combined to reach an acceptable standard for a postseason-bound team, turning in a .918 mark over the last 10 games. The issue is that Mikko Koskinen is nearly entirely responsible for that standard being met, stopping pucks at a .936 mark over three spectacular starts. Despite less usage, Koskinen has propped up Mike Smith, who has had three good starts, two dreadful appearances and one other that would be considered just OK.
This is, of course, a departure from what's been the norm — the Koskinen part. Before this latest rebound, Koskinen's save percentage fell to .900 on the season after an .886 stretch in the second half of Tippett's tenure.
Koskinen isn't eager to take all the credit; the netminder sees a renewed effort to team defence as the reason for his performance uptick.
"It’s like 20 guys out there who are playing well," Koskinen said, via Sportsnet's Mark Spector, following the win over Philly. “Not only the goalie or a couple of guys. It’s everyone.”
There are a few other things that stand out.
For one, Connor McDavid looks like the best player in the world again, counting as many points as any player league-wide since the switch to Woodcroft. His 49 shots leads the NHL, too, and his six goals and 16 points has him closer to last season's legendary on-average output.
What's also notable is Leon Draisaitl's interesting stat line. He hasn't been on McDavid's level offensively since the switch, though he continues to jockey with Auston Matthews for the Rocket Richard lead. However despite an on-ice expected goals rate in the red, Draisaitl has 9-0 individual on-ice goal differential at even strength over the last 10 games. Fortune has no doubt favoured the league's co-leading goal scorer.
What would also defy logic is Derek Ryan's impact under Woodcroft. Ryan's five 5-on-5 goals leads the Oilers through the last 10 games and happens to be as many as Matthews has scored over the same time frame while appearing to re-cement himself as the game's preeminent sniper. A non-scorer, Ryan has made up for the absences of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi, and the lack of production from Evander Kane.
But by far the biggest and most encouraging change under Woodcroft is the measure of cohesiveness he seems to have brought to the group, which Koskinen was keen to highlight after Tuesday's win.
Several Oilers spoke out about the lack of organization, especially from a defensive standpoint, in the immediate aftermath of Tippett's dismissal. Those previously-withheld insights into the cracks in the team's structure seem to have been filled and reflected in the tighter-checking and more structured style that Edmonton has employed and built upon over the last two-and-a-half weeks.
The best part is that it hasn't come at the expense of the team's top-end talent.
The Oilers will be fitting tooth and nail to enter the playoffs and from there, there are no certainties. But there have been temporary fixes under Woodcroft, which if anything gives them a chance.
General manager Ken Holland said weeks before firing Tippett that he doesn't believe in firing coaches, but acknowledged that there is a time and place.
In the 10 games since, it at least seems clear the Oilers had reached that point.
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