Sunday, April 14 2024

During the Edmonton Oilers‘ horrid start to the 2023-24 season, you could argue they were doing a lot of things right.

Under Jay Woodcroft, the team led the NHL in expected goal rate at 5v5 (57.82%) and outshot opponents by an average of 34.2 to 28.8 on a nightly basis.

The team was undone by disastrous goaltending (.864 SV%), a dip in power-play efficiency (23.9%) from their historic 2022-23 season (32.4%), and the duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl producing at a fairly modest clip compared to their extremely high standards.

In Edmonton’s first game under new coach Kris Knoblauch on Monday, almost all of those patterns were inverted.

The Oilers got a much-needed win in the first game of Kris Knoblauch's tenure. (Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)The Oilers got a much-needed win in the first game of Kris Knoblauch's tenure. (Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)

The Oilers got a much-needed win in the first game of Kris Knoblauch’s tenure. (Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)

The Oilers didn’t consistently carry the play in their battle with the New York Islanders, getting outshot 33-32 with an expected goal rate of 46.9% at 5v5. That didn’t matter because their most persistent early-season issues all resolved themselves for one night.

Stuart Skinner was outstanding in goal producing his best outing by save percentage (.970) since a shutout of the Los Angeles Kings on March 30. The much-maligned goaltender weathered some early adversity in the form of a goal less than a minute in, before keeping a lid on the net for the rest of the night.

Edmonton’s power play also looked more like the unit that terrorized the NHL last season going 2-for-3 with that success being driven by the McDavid-Draisaitl duo. The captain provided his third goal off the rush…

… and joked that he hadn’t forgotten how to light the lamp.

Draisaitl figured in on all four of Edmonton’s goals, which was notable considering the 28-year-old was coming off his worst 10-game stretch from a raw points production perspective (8) since December 2019.

For the Oilers to reach their potential, that duo has to play at an extremely high level. McDavid missed a couple of games due to injury and hasn’t been playing at 100%, but it’s impossible to ignore that Edmonton’s superstar duo averaged 1.41 goals and 3.43 points per game last season, and coming into Monday night those numbers sat at 0.54 and 1.92.

It’s amazing how much better this team looks when its world beaters are doing their thing — whether it’s at even strength or on the power play — and the goaltending is respectable.

To Knoblauch’s credit, the new coach didn’t simply step into his position and enjoy positive regression without making any changes. Although he didn’t shake up the power play unit that did most of the damage on the night, he did create new lines around both McDavid and Draisatil at 5v5.

His captain rode alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and journeyman Sam Gagner for the first time this season while Draisaitl had Zach Hyman and Evander Kane on his flanks. Neither unit had spent more than two-and-a-half 5v5 minutes together prior to Monday.

Those two units were collectively outshot 17-15 and held an expected goal share of 47.3%, but Draisaitl’s group produced Edmonton’s first goal.

There’s only so much 60 minutes can tell us about how the Oilers might be different under Knoblauch, and what the rest of their season holds. What’s clear is that for one night the team reversed all of its most notable trends.

For a team that entered the game with a 3-9-1 record, it’s safe to call that a positive development.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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