The Edmonton Oilers are still holding onto the playoff position – they are currently second in the Pacific Division – but even if the wheels have not yet fallen off the bus, the wheel nuts have been removed and some have come loose. It was a shaky ride at first as the Oilers were basically a dilapidated group hoping Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could get them through, but it worked a bit.
The Oilers started the season as a relatively low-event team able to outperform their meager positive margins and saw these margins increasingly negative in a number of categories over the course of the season Area relocated.
After the start of season 13-6-2 through mid-November, the Oilers have since dropped to 5-6-2, the 27th best record in the NHL at that time.
Looking at things from month to month, it looks worse than the record of almost 500 they recorded, especially with uniform strength.
Oddly enough, the Oilers improved their 5-to-5-stroke slot pass control every month of the season, but they had serious problems converting these completed passes into shots on goal. The strong advantage that they had with internal slots in October has gradually fallen into a deeply negative terrain, just as with slots from the overall slot.
The same trend is less extreme for shot attempts, both in the slot and in the overall attempts. While the Oilers managed to take advantage of the onslaught and even improve in November, they saw fewer opportunities in December that allowed significantly more.
Oddly enough, the opposite is true for bicycle opportunities, since the Oilers in their own zone cut the passes in the middle properly. However, this improvement was not enough to compensate for other deficit areas.
As much as the Oilers game has deteriorated with the same strength, that's not the biggest story behind Edmonton's struggles – we have to move away from the skaters and stare straight into the net.
At the beginning of the season, especially Mikko Koskinen from the inner slot was absolutely dynamic and rarely allowed the few dangerous shots that the Oilers let out. But how long would that take? Not long enough.
The Oilers' goalkeepers were below the league average and high place all season, which means the Oilers tended to give up weak goals slightly more often than the average team, but in October this wasn't a big goal since then Koskinen and Mike Smith stopped the most dangerous shots at a rate seven percent higher than the league average.
Unfortunately, the game for Edmonton only lasted a short time, as the goalkeepers dropped back to about the league average – and in November even just below the league average – which is not that bad. At least it's survivable to have goalkeepers who are slightly below average, but December was a horror show.
Koskinen has had two explosions in his last three starts, but played well in his other two games in December. Mike Smith has only made one start in his last six appearances, saving over 87 percent and only two in his last nine appearances. That wouldn't even be good in the 1980s, let alone now.
Both goalkeepers were illuminated from the inner slit, an area from which the Oilers allow more and more shots, which is a deadly combination.
The good news for the Oilers is that there is a relatively simple partial solution to it – there is no reason in the world that Smith and Koskinen share the network equally. Koskinen has been superior to Smith for two seasons now, and while Smith can do more and more runs where he's brilliant, these moments are becoming rarer.
Koskinen, however, was at least ready to use what the Oilers need every night. When Smith is in a hot phase, it makes sense to give him a few extra starts, but he's a 37-year-old veteran and not a beginner you want to develop through more reps.
It's also fortunate for the Oilers that points, no matter how badly you play, are not lost. These points make it much easier to get through hard streaks. Just ask the Montreal Canadiens, who despite their defeat are still in the playoff picture eight-straight.
If this Oilers team is able to recover and maintain its place in the standings, it is likely due to a seasonal battle of star players trying to make up for their lack of depth. It wouldn't be easy at any point, but you don't have to make it difficult for yourself by playing your worst players if you don't have to.