The Edmonton Oilers have surprised a lot of people by winning five of their first six games. Some areas of concern have been strengths, while other problems from last season linger.
1. Can they keep it up on the penalty kill?
The short answer is “of course not,” because they’re currently at 95 per cent. But with such a good start, there’s hope they can go from having one of the worst penalty kills in the league to one of the best. Over the last three seasons, the top three PKs in the league have finished around 85 per cent. That’s attainable for the Oilers, given what we’ve seen so far.
2. Will they get support scoring?
Last season, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined to score 52 per cent of the Oilers goals. So for this season, Draisaitl, McDavid, and James Neal have combined to score 69.6 per cent of the team’s goals. The only tally from a bottom-six player was Joakim Nygard’s four-on-goal against Los Angeles. While the Oilers grinder have done a good job killing penalties, they’ll need to provide offence for the Oilers to have a great season.
3. How will the goaltending duties be split?
So far it was Mike Smith for two, Mikko Koskinen for two, Smith for two. Smith was excellent Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks. Will Tippett ride the hot hand Wednesday against Philadelphia, or stick with a more even split and go back to Koskinen?
4. How many goals will James Neal score?
Neal has eight goals and his shooting percentage is 38.1. He won’t keep that up, but if he can get to 240 shots on net and be around his career average of 12 per cent, that will give him close to 30 on the season.
5. When it gets bad, how bad will it get?
Last season, the Oilers started off 8-4-1. They had other stretches of 9-2-2 and 7-2-2. But they also had a six-game winless skid, two runs of five games without a win and one stretch where they lost six out of seven. It’s great the Oilers are 5-1-0 out of the gate, now they have to limit their slumps to three games or less.
6. Can Draisaitl and McDavid finish 1-2 in scoring?
Going into Tuesday’s action, they’re tied for first, both with 12 points in six games. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning were the last teammates to top the scoring race. It happened in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.