Player grades, Games 71-80: McDavid, Smith, team structure power Oilers’ drive into playoffs

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After a long, largely uphill climb, the Edmonton Oilers played their last meaningful game of the regular season on Tuesday when they drubbed the Penguins 5-1 right in Pittsburgh to lock in their final 2021-22 position: second place in the Pacific Division. All that’s left is a pair of tune-up dates against also-rans at Rogers Place on Thursday and Friday which will have the effect of fine-tuning the final numbers, and hopefully the team itself. To that end:

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Might as well give the kid a game or two. Might need him in the playoffs.

This team’s meaningful regular-season business came to a close in Game #80, coinciding with the end of our eighth and last 10-game segment of the first complete season in three years. And what a productive segment it was, as Jay Woodcroft’s Oilers inexorably sealed the deal on first a playoff spot, then a relatively favorable match-up and finally home-ice advantage in the first round.

That 80th game also wrapped up the team’s road slate, so let’s have a quick look at that before zooming in on the most recent 10 games in all venues. The win in Pittsburgh was Edmonton’s 21st of the season against 20 losses of all types, thus securing a bare plurality and achieving one part of the old success formula, “win at home, break even on the road”.

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The Oilers’ official road record of 21-15-5 was more than respectable, their .573 points percentage ranking 14th in the NHL. They outscored their opponents by 134 goals to 124 with about 51% of the shot share. Most of that goal differential was attributable to special teams (35 goals to 26) which operated at a net efficiency rate of 110%.

The comparable numbers at home are 39 GP, 26-12-1, .679 (11th), 144 goals to 121 with 52% shot share and a 105% net efficiency on special teams. Indeed the biggest difference between home and away may have been the Oilers performance in “gimmick time” (3v3 overtime and the shootout) which was just 2 wins 5 losses* on the road while standing at a snazzy 5-1 on home ice. Which by and large is the domain of the coin toss.

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Season to date by segment

Games 1-10: 9-1-0, .900 | 44GF, 28GA | 331SF, 339SA | 1,050 PDOs
Games 11-20: 6-4-0, .600 | 31GF, 31GA | 323 SF, 341 SA | 1,005 PDO
Games 21-30: 3-7-0, .300 | 26GF, 35GA | 331 SF, 308 SA | .965 PDO
Games 31-40: 4-4-2, .500 | 31GF, 38GA | 348SF, 312SA | .967 PDO
Games 41-50: 6-3-1, .650 | 33 GF, 29 GA | 355 SF, 282 SA | .990 PDO
Games 51-60: 5-4-1, .550 | 32GF, 31GA | 325 SF, 327 SA | 1,004 PDOs
Games 61-70: 7-2-1, .750 | 48GF 33GA | 359 SF, 324 SA | 1,032 PDOs
Games 71-80: 7-2-1, .750 | 33GF, 20GA | 354SF, 329SA | 1,032 PDOs

Season to date: 47-27-6 | 278GF, 245GA | 34.1 SF/GP, 32.0 SA/GP | 1,006 PDOs

Turning now to the most recent set of games, the Oilers posted an identical 7-2-1 mark as the previous segment, though they accomplished it in a different way. They scored 15 fewer goals this time but allowed 13 fewer in their own net. The goal differential was slightly tighter at +13, but their actual goal Compartir actually increased from around 59% to 62%.

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Once again the Oilers held a comfortable edge in shots on goal but a more significant one in actual goals as they continued to ride a hot PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) of 103.2%.

The Oilers got the job done in all situations, outscoring their opponents 20-15 at 5v5, 1-0 at 3v3, and 3-1 in empty net situations. Only in the shootout did they come up short (0-1). But their best results have come on special teams.

The penalty kill has been smoking hot with a net clearance rate of, wait for it, 103.0% over the last 10 games. Put another way, in this segment the Oilers were shorthanded for 60:47 — the equivalent of one full game — and effectively won it by outscoring their opposition 3-2 while down a man.

The club got 40:27 on the powerplay — a full period less — and outscored the opposition 6-1. Make it 9-3 in net special teams goals, all the more impressive given the 40/60 split in opportunity.

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By our own analysis here at the Cult of Hockey, Edmonton’s share of Grade A shots was a near saw-off at 132 for, 136 against, including a substantial 108-90 advantage at even strength but +24/-46 on special teams, which belies the actual outcomes from those units. In other news, red-hot goaltending can solve a few nonsense problems, penalty killing high on that list. Let’s use that as a segue to our commentary on individual Oilers.


One question which has been definitively answered down the stretch is who will be the starting goaltender in the playoffs. That is now unquestionably mike smith, whose 9 straight wins in the month of April are accompanied by dazzling stats that comfortably rank him #1 in the NHL in wins, goals against average, and save percentage during the season’s final month. That doesn’t include a primary assist in overtime, a near goal, and countless passes that have led to easy zone exits if not entries. The shocking turnaround in his play from him has been seen his save percentage arises from a subpar .894 on Apr 01 all the way to .915 today; that ranks 12th among the 52 goalies with 25+ GP.

Smith has been especially strong on the PK, where he stopped 48 of 49 shots in the interval under review (including 17/17 in one game vs. the Avs) for a superb .980 save percentage in the discipline. That’s been a particular strength in what has been a historic run for the quadragenarian tendy.

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To wit, the recently turned 40-year-old has joined some pretty exclusive company:

That’s “former Oiler Jacques Plante”, though of course his time in Edmonton was still in the future when Jake the Snake set that standard while with the Maple Leafs of all teams. Pretty cool guy with whom to be sharing a record, I’d say. Though Smith will likely get one more start and a chance to stand alone in the Old Goalie Record Book.

On the flip side, mikko koskinen started 3 games in the most recent segments, all of them Oilers losses. In his defense of him, the Oilers scored just 4 goals in those 3 games combined, but that underscores the clear fact that the team as a whole is playing better with Smith in the cage just now.


This last while has been something of a coming out party for Evan Bouchard, who marked his 100th NHL game on Tuesday night with his 12th goal of the season. His even strength boxcars of 10-25-35 are particularly strong, ranking in the top 20 of the NHL in each category. And lately it’s not just scoring but outscoring, bouncing back from a rough game in Minnesota with a +12/-0 (!) run in 5v5 goals over the past half-dozen contests. He and partner Duncan Keith have been making hay on the goal differential front, while the rest of the group has been more or less sawing off at even strength while rocking it on special teams.

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Funny how it goes, last segment it was Keith and Bouchard who shared the black square for worst minus figure, this time around they are in the ascendant.

All seven of the rearguards have contributed to the offense at least somewhat, with at least 2 points apiece and 26 as a group.


the Connor McDavid Show continues to run unabated in its seventh season. Despite the lower-scoring games, #97 just keeps on scoring, and in this segment he was involved in an actual majority (17/33) of Edmonton goals. Standout stat is his 13 assists on a team where no other player had more than 5. McDavid has finally left teammate Leon Draisaitl in his wake after a near-season-long friendly duel atop the league point leaders. He currently holds a 7-point lead over second-place Jonathan Huberdeau with just 2 games to play and appears poised to win his fourth Art Ross Trophy.

McDavid has had plenty of help on the first line, notably from Evander Kane who continues to deliver the goods since being signed in midseason. All Kane did in the most recent segment was lead Oilers forwards in goals, shots, penalty minutes, hits (not shown) and plus, in the process daubing more than a few squares on the Power Forward Bingo Card.

For his part Draisaitl entered the final segment with a minor injury he’d picked up in Game 70, spent a game in the press box and saw his subsequent production drop a couple of quarts. I have managed to find the scoresheet in 6 of the last 7 games, but had just one multi-point outing in the set (that being a spectacular hat trick in Nashville). His 55 goals stand as the highest total of any Oiler since Wayne Gretzky notched 62 back in 1986-87.

The rest of the forward group has chipped in here and there, with no fewer than 7 support scorers in the 2-6 point range over this 10-game set.

player grades

We close in our usual fashion by reviewing the set of 10 games through the lens of our own subjective ratings here at the Cult of Hockey. Regular readers will know that we grade on a scale of 1 to 10, the performance of every Edmonton Oilers player in every game the team plays, based on a combination of observation and interpretation of statistical output. Here are average grades for Games 71-80 along with our customary thumbnail comment summarizing each player’s contribution over that span:

Results by grader, eighth segment:

  • Kurt Leavins – 4 games, 4-0-0, average grade 6.6
  • David Staples – 3 games, 2-1-0, average grade 5.4
  • Bruce McCurdy – 3 games, 1-1-1, average grade 6.1

  • Segment totals – 10 games, 7-2-1, average grade 6.0

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