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Are the Edmonton Oilers for real?

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The dawn of a new, mediocre era in the Pacific Division

Edmonton Oilers v San Jose Sharks Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Sharks host the Oilers for the first time this season Friday with the teams tied for first place in the Pacific. When the team’s met for the first time last season (Dec. 9) the Sharks were 14-13-1 and in second in the division while Edmonton was 12-15-2 and in fourth.

That’s not the case this time around. San Jose is 20-12-1 and Edmonton is 18-12-5 giving both teams 41 points (the Sharks have two games in hand). At the time of this writing they’re the only two teams with a positive goal differential in the Pacific (the Kings are sitting at 0) as the division self immolates.

We’re deep enough into the season to ask: Are the Edmonton Oilers for real?

Succinctly: Kind of! The Oilers are certainly a better team than in years past despite a few puzzling roster decisions. Edmonton improved its possession game and that Connor McDavid guy will be the best hockey player in the world one of these days. I don’t think the Oilers are a threat for a division title just yet, but they’re a legitimate hockey team, if not a well run franchise.

The above image, from corsica.hockey, is the Oilers’ 25-game rolling average of 5v5 corsi-for percentage since 2010. This is the longest Edmonton has been a good possession team in that span and I think it’s a sign the Oilers have actually turned a corner. Their positive goal differential is another good sign — and if you’ve seen any Edmonton games this year, I think you’d agree they pass the eye test.

I was skeptical of the Oilers entering the season. I picked them to finish fourth in the Pacific more because I didn’t think Anaheim and Los Angeles could crater too much in one season. I’m still not sure they will, nor am I sure Edmonton will continue to get great goaltending — but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Oilers get a Pacific Division playoff spot at this point.

Beyond McDavid, the obvious star of the show in Edmonton, the Oilers have received production from players like Patrick Maroon. He has 15 points (nine goals) for the Oil and is second on the team in expected goals despite entering the year with more of a third-liner build. Depth players stepping up helps get a team like Edmonton over the hump — so does goaltending.

Only once since the 2007-08 season have the Oilers gotten better 5v5 goaltending, as the above graph indicates, than they’re getting this season; that was the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign. That year (.9253) is barely an improvement on this year (.9249) and is an anomaly in many ways, so this year is a marked improvement over what the Oilers are used to.

Edmonton might not get to contender status even with McDavid if management keeps sending the Taylor Halls of the world away for middling defenders, but the Oilers will at least be a threat on a nightly basis in a way they weren’t in years past. That’s more a wrinkle to the story than a new narrative, but I for one welcome our new black gold overlords.