Oilers left searching for answers after dispiriting loss to Flames

Andrew Mangiapane opened the scoring 11 seconds into the game and added two assists as the Flames beat the Oilers.

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers are back to looking like they don’t believe, a familiar look in the land that playoff hockey forgot.

They’ve lost whatever spirit they had, not to mention 11 of their past 15 games, and we all know where it goes from here. This isn’t a one-game thing, it’s a 10-year thing. And it always finds its way to a game like the one the Oilers played Friday, a 5-1 loss at home to Calgary.

“We were off three days for Christmas, and we didn’t come with the mindset to prepare to play a hard game. We were loose,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “When you haven’t skated for three days, show up with the purpose to prepare. Prepare the right way. We were loose the whole (morning skate). We didn’t prepare well enough to win and it showed right from the drop of the puck.”

He talked to his team about it before the game. They didn’t respond even a little.

The first Battle of Alberta of the season. A full house on a Friday night. Fresh off a few nice days off, and nobody is ready to play?

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Calgary scored 11 seconds into the game. They scored 68 seconds into the second period. They scored 57 seconds into the third.

Can a team possibly be less prepared to play hockey than that?

“There’s no real excuse for that,” said captain Connor McDavid. “We’ve always talked about how this team struggles coming off of breaks, and tonight was no different.”

If you’re not ready to play in this game — against this opponent — is it fair to ask, when might the Edmonton Oilers deign to put their work boots on from the opening whistle of a hockey game?

Clearly, having a two-man team with the best power play in the NHL isn’t a recipe for winning consistently. The chickens are coming home to roost in Edmonton, folks, and you get the sense Tippett has seen this coming for some time now.

“We won some games early in the year that we didn’t play very well, let’s just be honest,” he said. “Whether our goaltender played well or Connor played well or whatever it may be. But the last 20 games or so, our defending hasn’t been near as strong.”

Nor has the goaltending, with Mikko Koskinen simply not allowing any kind of a comeback to happen Friday. He was awful, and he had a ton of company on an Oilers team that now sports just two players – Zack Kassian and Kris Russell — with a plus-minus in black numbers.

We’ve seen this so many times before, I could write a book. The team wins a few, then the inevitable cold streak comes, and they fold.

They don’t turn it around, because they look down their bench, see what they have, and simply lose their belief.

“It’s a confidence issue,” said McDavid, whose team has not won back-to-back games in over a month. “When things are going good and something bad happens, you bounce back right away. Now, it just seems when something bad happens we’re just waiting for another bad thing to happen again. We’ve got to snap out of that.”

It’s been 13 years and counting, with one playoff appearance. And the quotes haven’t changed.

“We’ve got to find a way out of this,” said Nugent-Hopkins, “and it’s got to start in this room.”

We are here, Oilers fans, at that point that usually comes sometime in mid-November or late October. The point where we ask, why can’t this team turn around an elongated period of poor-to-average performances?

Why were the Calgary Flames so vastly superior in every aspect of the game Friday? Do they not celebrate Christmas? Do they not celebrate the holidays?

It’s time to carve this turkey, folks. Because if they play like this for two more weeks, the results won’t matter anymore.

• Nugent-Hopkins getting bumped off a puck eight seconds into the game, that goes straight into the slot for a goal at the 11-second mark. A veteran player should be ready to play. Nugent-Hopkins was not.

• Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom, two leaders on this team, stumbled through the first period like they were charging the till at a Boxing Day sale. These two are supposed to calming influences. Leaders who show the way. They were not close to that on Friday.

• We couldn’t spend enough words telling you how good Leon Draisaitl was for the first month of the season. Unfortunately, he appears to have read them all. This is too good a player to waltz around the ice leaving drop passes and opposition scoring chances in his wake. He’s too good to be on a 16-game run of minus nights (with one even performance thrown in). Draisaitl is minus-25 in his past 16 games, and was abysmal again on Friday.

• Even the captain gets blame at this point. It’s McDavid’s team that waltzed through the morning skate, listened to Tippett tell them they didn’t look like they were prepared to compete, then sashayed out at game time like they knew better.

It’s McDavid’s team whose defensive effort comes and goes like a winter breeze, as does he and Draisaitl’s defensive work ethic. And it’s McDavid’s stats line that reads minus-13 in his past 16 games.

It can’t just be about the Art Ross around here. There’s a far more important trophy, and McDavid’s team isn’t getting any closer on that front.

On Friday night, they simply looked like they no longer believe. Like they’ve given up.


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