SPORTS

NHL things to know: Hope for the Oilers?

11/27/2014 10:44 EST | Updated 01/27/2015 05:59 EST
It's Thanksgiving in the States, and the NHL is giving nearly all its teams the day off out of respect for the holiday. Either that or it wants no part of going head-to-head with the NFL's three games.

The only contest on the NHL schedule sees the Edmonton Oilers visit the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. Here's what you need to know about those teams:

Oil spill

The spotlight is probably not a good place for the Oilers right now. Edmonton (6-14-2) has lost seven games in a row, picking up just a single point along the way. Saturday's humiliating 7-1 home defeat by Chicago led to rumblings that changes could be coming to the Oilers' front office and/or coaching staff, and a subsequent 3-2 loss at Dallas on Tuesday didn't do much to quiet the talk.

The roster assembled by president Kevin Lowe and GM Craig MacTavish, and coached by Dallas Eakins, is dangerously close to last place in the league. The Oilers have an identical record to Buffalo's but get a leg up because they have more non-shootout wins. Still, not a great spot to be in when you consider the Sabres have opted to ice a diminished team as part of their plan to try to land phenom Connor McDavid in the upcoming draft.

Advanced stats offer hope

So what's the problem with the Oilers? Where to start? In a 30-team league, Edmonton ranks 29th in goals against per game, 26th in goals for, 28th in 5-on-5 scoring differential and 26th in power-play success rate. One bright (or maybe just less dark) spot: the penalty-killing unit ranks a respectable 16th.

Advanced stats offer some hope too. The Oilers are around the middle of the pack in the Fenwick and Corsi numbers that measure puck possession at 5-on-5 in close-game situations. Their PDO is also the lowest in the NHL, which is actually a good thing.

If you're not familiar, the theory is that the sum of a team's save and shooting percentages should gravitate to 1.000 because a lot of luck is involved in whether a shot on net goes in or not. Edmonton's mark in 5-on-5 close situations is currently at 95.5, per stats.hockeyanalysis.com. Given that, and their decent possession numbers, the smart money may be on the Oilers improving from here on out.

PreDatOrs turn it around

At the opposite end of the PDO spectrum is Nashville, which sits just a sliver behind league-leading Pittsburgh with a mark of 103.1. The Predators are in the upper echelon in possession rate, so you could argue they're more "deserving" of their PDO luck, and less likely to gravitate towards the mean than Edmonton.

Nashville (14-5-2) is one of the NHL's best surprises, leading the Central ahead of pre-season favourites St. Louis and Chicago. Quite a turnaround for a team that finished sixth in the division a year ago and missed the playoffs for the second straight time. 

The Preds' resurgence is being led by 20-year-old centre Filip Forsberg, who ranks 13th in the league with 22 points. The much maligned Mike Ribeiro — bought out by Arizona after reportedly showing up late for practices and meetings and clashing with the coaching staff — has 17 points in 21 games, while fellow off-season acquisition James Neal has 14.

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