Misconception about how the Edmonton Oilers perform versus top teams

The Oilers fell short at home to the Avalanche on Saturday night, lending itself to an incorrect narrative they can't win against the best teams in the NHL.

Mar 16, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN;  Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman (18) looks for a loose
Mar 16, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman (18) looks for a loose / Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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Saturday was a big test for the Edmonton Oilers, as they hosted the Colorado Avalanche. It was a chance to show what they could do, versus one of the very best teams in the NHL.

It was also an opportunity for Connor McDavid to prove he was still top dog against Nathan MacKinnon. McDavid is still arguably the best player in the game, but MacKinnon does hold a strong edge in the Art Ross Trophy hunt, while also having won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago.

It proved to be a tremendous game between two of the top teams in the Western Conference. However, when it was all said and done the Avalanche came through with a big 3-2 overtime win on the road, with McDavid being held scoreless and MacKinnon notching the primary assist on the game-winner with one second remaining in overtime.

However, while the game was closely contested, there are plenty of critics out there, who used the loss as evidence the Oilers just can't get it done against the best teams. That they choke too often and have built up their strong record this season on the back of beating the weaker teams in the NHL.

The thing is though, this narrative does not hold up under scrutiny. The reality is that this line of thinking is based on how the Oilers performed earlier during the 2023-24 season.

Let's break it down

For the purpose of this article, we're going to use the teams currently in a playoff position as of Monday morning. The Oilers began the campaign 5-12-1, which was the fourth-worst start in franchise history through 18 games.

Oilers vs.

5-12-1

Playoff teams

1-10-1

Non-playoff teams

4-2-0

West Conf. playoff teams

1-5-1

Teams with 90+ points

0-7-1

There's no denying this breakdown of results plays into the narrative of the Oilers only being able to consistently beat the poorer teams. Now let's review their record in the various scenarios for the season as a whole:

Oilers vs.

40-21-4

Playoff teams

14-14-3

Non-playoff teams

26-7-1

West Conf. playoff teams

7-7-2

Teams with 90+ points

5-8-2

Again, while not as bad, the Oilers have a .500 record versus current playoff teams, dominate those outside a playoff spot, and struggle versus the best top opponents. However, let's now look at how they've done since the 5-12-1 start to this season:

Oilers vs.

35-9-3

Playoff teams

13-4-2

Non-playoff teams

22-5-1

West Conf. playoff teams

6-2-1

Teams with 90+ points

5-1-2

The reality is that the Oilers are a much better teams since their poor start to the 2023-24 campaign. This is in large part thanks to the calm, cerebral leadership of Kris Knoblauch, who has helped reinforce the defensive aspects of the game, while not compromising the offensive potency of the players.

The Oilers' record versus teams with 90 or more points is particularly encouraging/impressive, including beating both the Bruins on Rangers on the road. Even the one instance where they did lose outright -- and indeed get dominated at home by the Panthers 5-1 -- came back in December.

Next. Oilers wait with baited breath on injury status of Desharnais. Oilers wait with baited breath on injury status of Desharnais. dark

Of course we fully appreciate that all of this only matters so much, with what happens in the playoffs being what's truly important. Until then however, it's time to dismiss the notion that the Oilers have built up their strong record on the back of dominating the poorer teams in the NHL and struggling again the better ones.

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