EDMONTON — Lose to the San Jose Sharks?
Sure, you can still lose to the San Jose Sharks. They’re pros, with a mix of veterans trying to save face after a lousy season, and a bunch of kids playing for jobs.
But get outworked by the San Jose Sharks? Shift after shift after shift? In your own building, in the thick of a playoff race? One game removed from a poor performance in Arizona that everyone basically wrote off as a Calgary hangover…?
“We were just flat. Emotionless,” said Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “We’re at our best when we’re playing with emotion and being physical. In guys’ faces and playing the right way. Two nights in a row we’ve been pretty flat and maybe it’s a little bit of a letdown from those games in Calgary and whatnot, but we can’t make excuses for ourselves.
“We’ve got to be better.”
Hey, you don’t get to beat everyone, all the time. Heck, Detroit won on Thursday, and they never win.
But you should be embarrassed to be outworked the way the Oilers were on Thursday night, no matter who the opponent is. Should we wonder how a team that has tasted this little success play like a perennial playoff team that’s simply tuning up for the post season?
If this doesn’t end on Saturday against Nashville, then yes, we’ll be wondering.
Everyone gave the Oilers a pass for a lethargic 3-0 loss in Arizona on Tuesday. After those emotional games against Calgary, even head coach Dave Tippett showed some understanding with his “They tried to try” quote down in Glendale.
What’s the difference two nights later?
“Six periods,” said Tippett. “Not good.”
“This was a game that we had to show up and play,” he continued. “We were not competing hard enough in the areas that you have to.”
McDavid came out flying, and scored on one of his patented 100-m.p.h. rushes at the 5:20 mark to make it 2-0 Edmonton. The Oilers didn’t score again until the 6:33 mark of the third period — after five consecutive by the Sharks, who were without their two best forwards in injured Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl.
On a night when Vancouver, Calgary and Arizona all lost, so too did an Oilers team that looked disheveled and disinterested. As if the realization of how important these points are stopped at the glass, and never made it from the fans to the players.
“It’s going to get hard to win,” Tippett warned, “and if you are not willing to pay the price to win, or willing to block shots, or box out men, or compete on a one-on-one battle for a loose puck in front of the net…
“If you lose the majority of those, you are not going to win many games. That is on us. San Jose played a hard game, they just wanted to compete. They have some people missing, they have a lot of young players competing hard. We got beat on too many of those compete plays and it cost us the games.”
Fans will talk about how their team should have capitalized on losses by all the teams around them in the Pacific standings (except Vegas). But that’s not how it works.
You don’t play harder because Minnesota beat Vancouver. You don’t win that puck battle because Nashville won in Calgary.
If you’re Edmonton, you try to establish yourself as a true contender by being hard to play against every night — not just some nights. By being a team that refuses to lose two in a row, not when the second one is against a team well below you in the standings and you’re back on home ice.
It’s great to get up for games against Calgary and St. Louis. But winning teams, like winning players, learn to pay at a certain level every night. It doesn’t mean you win every night. It just means you compete to win every night.
It’s not that difficult to understand, Tippett stressed.
“When you are in a battle,” he explained, “there are two guys going to the net side by side. One guy wins and one guy doesn’t. We didn’t win enough of those.
“The St. Louis game, the Calgary game, they were simple hockey games. You put the puck ahead and you go hard after it, you compete on loose pucks you get pucks going to the net.
“It’s not like an extravagant math equation here.”
Edmonton didn’t compete hard enough on Thursday. They didn’t work hard enough, weren’t committed enough to their game, and watched a 2-0 lead fade into a 6-3 defeat because they played loose, pre-season hockey during a stretch-run game.
And they lost.
Of course they lost.
Like the coach said: This isn’t calculus.