October 12 2013 11:44AM
The Edmonton Oilers have had a pretty slow start to the season, wins and losses-wise, but there are arguments to be made that the team is actually better off than they have been in quite some time. The team is shooting just 6.8% and getting just .866 goaltending at even strength, but the Oilers have kept their shot differential numbers through each of their first four games relatively even.
Some of Devan Dubnyk's struggles have surely been projected onto Dallas Eakins. Stylistically, one could drum up a narrative that Eakins is the polar opposite of Randy Carlyle. They're both hockey coaches, but Eakins, who quotes the importance of shot differentials in his post-game press conferences and pulls his goalie much earlier than convention (last game against Montreal, Dubnyk was out of the next with 4:33 to go in the third period, the Oilers down by a pair).
Eakins, who has also dressed three low-minute players who can do little more than collect penalty minutes in each of his team's games this season, is also guilty of at least one crime committed by Randy Carlyle. After all, he's a hockey coach, and he's in Edmonton now. He used to be in Toronto.
Yes, they’re 1-2-0 but the shape of things is different than last year. It’s very early but putting up a 50% Corsi% over three games is so far removed from what they did last year that it’s a pretty promising sign.
The above passage is from mc79hockey, who also points out the Oilers never had a four-game stretch last season where the team put up a 50% Corsi rate or more. He wrote at Sportsnet yesterday that "one of the great things about Corsi% is it acquires meaning quickly, in that it's unusual for a great team to struggler over a relatively small number of games or vice versa."
I think anybody that follows the numbers can get how rare it is for a team that frequently out-shoots its opposition to lay down two or three stinkers in a row, and the reverse is true for bad teams. Shot differential numbers probably have a bit more predictive value right now than team records, but you're still pulling differently-coloured balls out of an urn. It's tough to tell early in the season whether we've confirmed any hypotheses formed in our minds over the summer, but we all do it.
Hell, even in the playoffs. Last year in the postseason the Leafs and Islanders both got pounded in Game 1 of their series against Boston and Pittsburgh, respectively. Yet… both teams made it a series. There's a lot of worry about the New York Rangers and them having been out-scored 15-2 against San Jose and Anaheim in back-to-back nights, but the Rangers have a long trip to start the season and the best goalie of the last five years is letting in everything. Without a frame of reference, it's easy to get fooled by a couple of big wins or losses. If that happens midseason, you have a team's record to fall back on to confirm hypotheses. Not early.
Sum it up, I think the Oilers are going to be a good team this year, and tonight should be a lot of fun.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
David Broll - Nazem Kadri - Joffrey Lupul
Mason Raymond - Dave Bolland - Josh Leivo
Carter Ashton - Jay McClement - Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Morgan Rielly - Cody Franson
Paul Ranger - Jake Gardiner
Cody Franson practiced yesterday and is good to go tonight, per Paul Hendrick. Franson, of course, left the game against Nashville after being hit from behind into the curved pane of glass behind the Leafs bench, resulting in his own visor cutting up his nose. There's no reason to expect any lineup changes, but Lupul should probably find his way back onto the line with Bolland and Raymond. Nik Kulemin and Frazer McLaren are still a ways away as is Mark Fraser.
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
David Perron - Mark Arcobello - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Smyth - Boyd Gordon - Nail Yakupov
Luke Gazdic - Will Acton - Mike Brown
Should Joensuu be ready to play, he'll apparently come in for either Gazdic or Smyth. Gazdic is the most likely sparring partner for Colton Orr.
Justin Schultz - Andrew Ference
Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Nick Schultz - Anton Belov
The Oilers D is still a bit of a mess on paper, but Petry, Justin Schultz and Belov all have plus Corsi rates early on despite apparently playing on different pairings. Petry has been bouncing around between the bottom two pairings, but that top unit hasn't change through four games.
Jonathan Bernier has never had three consecutive starts in his career. Devan Dubnyk has had a few already. Dubnyk has some rough statistics to start the season, but I think his .912 career save percentage rate is much more indicative of the goaltender he'll be this season than the .847 he's gotten in the first three games of the season.
The Oilers and the Leafs faceoff at 7:00 ET on CBC's Hockey Night. Don't forget to sign up for Streakcred.