The Edmonton Oilers really needed this one. Like, they were desperate.
So, 15 seconds into the game Oscar Klefbom, the Oilers’ No. 1 defenceman, went all in on the pinch. Why wait?
It was as poor a decision as has been made north of the 49th parallel this quadrennial.
“Maybe you’re over-excited and almost want to do too much,” Klefbom said after yet another Oilers loss, this one a 5-3 setback to Carolina. “We’ve been losing some games and you get over-excited and want to show the fans you’re on your toes.”
Klefbom’s awful decision set up a Carolina two-on-one, and it was 1-0 Hurricanes 20 seconds into the game. Head coach Todd McLellan, whose top defenceman had just finished the worst four-game stint of his entire NHL career, couldn’t believe his eyes.
“We’re 20 seconds into the game and we’re pinching,” McLellan said in disbelief. “And we have no coverage, because a guy fell behind the net. And we’re pinching. It’s 20 seconds in.”
Did he mention that it was 20 seconds in?
But wait, as the guy in the Slap Chop commercial always says. There’s more.
Less than a minute later, Zack Kassian hopped the boards to play right wing with his linemates. Problem: The right-winger from the previous shift was still on the ice, 60 feet from the bench.
“He hasn’t even touched the ice yet and he takes a penalty,” McLellan observed. “It wasn’t even close.”
Edmonton killed that penalty, but Pat Maroon hadn’t gone to work yet.
At the 4:00 mark, Marcus Kruger held Maroon’s stick illegally. When Maroon didn’t get the call he went into full pout. After begging the referee for a call, he went right to Kruger and hit him.
Kruger made a sucker of Maroon by toppling over, and Maroon went to the box for interference — as selfish a play as you’ll see a hockey player make.
Said his coach: “I didn’t like it.”
That about sums up the Oilers this season: The worst penalty kill in the NHL made it through a stupid bench penalty. Then Maroon made sure Carolina got a do-over, and in a feat of self-pity he gave the Canes another chance, on which they capitalized.
You can dwell on the 51 shots on net the Oilers supposedly had — even though the shot count is becoming very suspect in this building — or the fact that yet another opposing goalie looked like Jacques Plante himself at Rogers Place.
(Truly, the Oilers have received five shots over two intermissions in the past two games. Intermission shots in Edmonton. They’re not just for the suffering fans.)
Here are the facts: This team thought it would be easy this season, they bought into the idea of a waltz to some more playoff success, and the rest of the NHL is shoving it down their throats.
The Oilers arrived fat and sassy, beat an awful Calgary team on opening night, and figured the next 81 games would be even easier.
Klefbom? He has been nothing short of a disaster since opening night.
Connor McDavid? Hasn’t scored a goal since Game 1.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? The maturation into a great checking centre has seriously stalled. He got walked on the Canes’ final goal.
The goalies? Once again the Oilers didn’t get a single save, this time from beleaguered backup Laurent Brossoit. He didn’t have a chance on a couple, but didn’t give his team a chance the rest of the way.
Leon Draisaitl? He’s hurt, so he gets a pass — even if nobody can spot the incident where he sustained an eye injury and a concussion.
Klefbom’s partner Adam Larsson?
“I was not good today,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t think you can win if your top pair is letting in four goals a night.”
This Oilers start is reminiscent of the Toronto Blue Jays, a team that figured to contend in 2017. But they started out at 1-6, went to 3-12, and could never overcome the hole that was dug in April.
Edmonton is only five games in, with a 1-4 record. But you know the old saying: You can’t make the Stanley Cup Playoffs by U.S. Thanksgiving, but you can sure miss them by then.
The Oilers hit the road now, which should be good news, right Larsson?
“We were good on the road last year, as a team. I think it can be a good thing for this group to get away for a bit.”
Sure, except for three things: Edmonton plays in Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, three clubs with a combined record of 12-5-2.
And did we mention? The Oilers absolutely stink right now.
Said Mark Letestu: “Well, home certainly isn’t working right now.”