For those who are unfamiliar with the scoring chance metric a player is awarded a chance any time someone on the ice has a chance to score. He is awarded a "chance for" if someone on his team has a chance to score and given a "chance against" if someone on the opposing team has a chance to score. The results are broken down into three game states, EV (Even Strength), PP (Power Play, excluding 5v3) and SH (Short-Handed, excluding 5v3). At EV I've also included a scoring chance percentage which is simply the number of chances for divided by the total number of chances for both teams when any individual player is on the ice. The players are organized according to jersey numbers. Dennis King has been keeping track of the chances during Oiler games this year and last and what follows are the results from the first ten games of this season.
There has been quite a lot of talk about Ladislav Smid improving last year. I didn't buy it then. There's more talk of him having arrived as a solid defender this year but this time the scoring chance numbers support this conclusion. My congratulations to Ladislav Smid who certainly makes this group a lot deeper if he can continue his fine play. But perhaps Smid's results shouldn't be too surprising. He's been paired frequently with Lubomir Visnovsky (who did very well by this metric last season and continues to do so now) and the two of them have been sheltered by this coaching staff so far. With Souray and Staios going down to injury one would expect that these two would be taking on the second toughs at the very least but, according to the quality of competition rankings at Behind the Net the second toughs task is falling to the pairing of Jason Strudwick and Taylor Chorney. Those two also have the worst o-zone to d-zone start ratio so it's really no wonder they're struggling. Strudwick showed last year he couldn't cut it as a top 6 defender and Chorney is a raw rookie so the ass-kicking that these guys are taking should fall at least somewhat on the coaches who aren't doing anything to protect them. The other strange usage these guys are getting is on the PK where they're actually doing quite well. Chorney and Grebeshkov are actually very close in minutes per game and while Grebs is allowing 2.5 PK chances per game, Chorney is only at 1.5. It's early yet and it's quite possible that these numbers will change drastically but for me Chorney's work on the PK has been a most pleasant surprise. Gilbert and Grebeshkov meanwhile have been counted to play big minutes on the PK and the other team's best at EV. Thus far they've been struggling (and Gilbert had a particularly bad game this evening). They haven't had a lot of support from the top forwards on the club but those two will still need to be better going forward.
As for the forwards I thought I'd start by looking at Dustin Penner. Through ten games last year Penner's chance percentage was 50.9%. This year he's sitting at 49.4% yet last year's start was horrendous and this year's start is fantastic. And I don't mean that sarcastically. So what has changed? Well, he's scoring a lot more for one (largely percentages but he's also taking more shots) and he's in a really positive environment as well. Everyone from the coaches to the media to the fans are now on his side and it's changing what people notice. Tonight for instance, Penner had the play die with him when, after some extended pressure in the Calgary zone, he attempted a pass to one of the defencemen that was well off the mark and resulted in the puck going down into the Oilers zone. Last year that would have been a story, this year, not so much.
Another thing that may have changed how people perceive his performance is the play of the other money forwards. On a relative basis Penner has looked completely dominant. Hemsky and Horcoff have really struggled so far this year, picking up right where they left off last year. For the Oilers to be effective these two need to be able to play against the best the opposition has to offer and come up no worse than even. They're not doing it yet and the Oilers are winning on percentages. As much as I know the percentages will turn I also think Horc and Hemsky will turn their games around and think that it's possible that those two things balance out.
As for the crash and bang crew (Moreau, Stortini, Brule, Jacques, Stone) the best of the bunch so far has been Stortini and Stone. Brule, Moreau and Jacques have all struggled mightily (though Brule has put up a bunch of points). If one of the big wingers can turn things around I think the coaches can feel pretty good about themselves. Certainly if Moreau is able to play half-decent on a shut-down line with Horcoff that could bring the physical balance that Quinn has been looking for (the "big guy" on the line could be Penner on the Hemsky line, Moreau on the shutdown line, Stone/Stortini on the other two lines). But it requires them to turn it around... and for Stone and Stortini, who doesn't have a great track record of doing well in scoring chance differential, to keep up their near break-even pace. But really, there aren't a lot of other choices with the options currently available and the style the coaches want to play.