EDMONTON — It was over almost before it started. Yes, Maple Leafs fans, even the Edmonton Oilers are too much to handle right now.
“I don’t know what to tell you guys anymore,” Phil Kessel said to the media, after Toronto’s road futility skein ran to 1-18-2. “We have good players in here, right? We’re not getting it done.
“This is my all-time low in hockey right now. It’s a tough go.”
Jonathan Bernier was beaten for three goals on the first four shots he faced, and the Oilers nursed a 4-1 first period lead all the way to the finish line Monday night at Rexall Place. It was Toronto’s eighth loss in their past 10 games. The Leafs were outscored 14-5 over consecutive losses in Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton, ending this road trip at 0-3.
“It was a brutal start,” Kessel surmised. “You’re not going to win any games in this league going down 4-0. We’re still working, still trying. It’s a tough time for us. I don’t know how to explain it anymore.”
Bernier must have had an inkling that things weren’t going to go too swell, when Edmonton’s first shot (by Benoit Pouliot) changed direction off of defenceman Eric Brewer’s stick and found twine just 53 seconds into the game.
Jordan Eberle then wired a wrist shot about an inch below the cross bar, and after another Pouliot goal less than a minute later, Eberle collected his third point on Anton Lander’s power-play goal. That made it 4-0 Edmonton just 10:59 into the game, with a pair of markers from an Oilers power play (10 for it’s last 26) that has been the hottest unit in the entire NHL since the all-star break.
“We have a lot of confidence right now,” said Eberle, who upped his points total to 55 points (19-36-55). “We feel like every time we’re out there we’re going to score. Anytime you have that going and you start working as a unit it’s a recipe for success.”
The Leafs, if you listen to Kessel, aren’t sure if they’ll ever win another hockey game. They actually outplayed Edmonton in the final 40 minutes, but couldn’t add to their lone first-period goal when James van Riemsdyk tipped one in on the power play from Dion Phaneuf and Kessel. It was JVR’s only point on the road trip.
As for Kessel’s statement that this is an “all-time low,” head coach Peter Horachek had little time for sympathy. “We’re playing the best game in the world, and you’re still getting paid pretty good money to do it,” the beleaguered Leafs coach said.
“They’ve got to … suck it up, and let’s go. Let’s do something about it. Let’s win the game. Let’s be focused for 60 minutes. Let’s make sure we’re all ready to play within the confines of our structure, and be playing with passion. You’re getting paid pretty good money.”
As they have been for the entirety of this three-game Western road swing, the effort put forth by the Leafs best forwards was egregious. Kessel hit top gear less than 10 times on this trip, while a disinterested Joffrey Lupul extended his goalless streak to 19 games and his pointless streak to 15.
To this reporter’s eye, defenceman Morgan Rielly was likely the Leafs best player on this Western swing. He had four shots versus Edmonton.
Reimer played well after the mercy pull of Bernier, but Scrivens outplayed them both, stopping 28 of 29.
“The shots that scored, you wouldn’t have saved them no matter what. They were perfectly placed shots,” Horachek said. “The problem is, we gave them 22 easy entries. They were coming through, our structure wasn’t there. We had no neutral zone, no tracking.”
The win opens a six-game home stand for Edmonton, and ties them for 28th spot in the NHL standings with Arizona. The Coyotes have a game in hand. Toronto plays five of its next six games at Air Canada Centre.