First shot once again the nail in Oilers’ coffin vs. Rangers

Connor McDavid scored his 30th goal of the season and assisted on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' 17th but the Edmonton Oilers lost to the New York Rangers.

Thirteen times.

That’s how many times this season the Edmonton Oilers have surrendered a goal on the game’s first shot.

A baker’s dozen.

In fully 20 per cent of their games, the very … first … shot … goes … in. That’s one out of every five starts, for you folks scoring at home.

If there is one malady that sums up an Oilers season that has just never been healthy, it is that. And very seldom has it been a bad goal.

Most often, it has been one like the New York Ranges scored just 54 seconds into the game Saturday night: amateurish puck management, beer league defensive zone coverage, and a player depositing a puck into a wide open net, as Chris Kreider did to open Saturday’s 3-2 Rangers victory.

“Especially for a team that played back-to-back (as the Rangers did). It should be the other way,” said struggling Oilers defenceman Andrej Sekera. “We weren’t engaged the first period. The next period we were much better.”

The night before, the Rangers had surrendered 51 shots in Calgary. On Wednesday in Vancouver, the Canucks pelted Henrik Lundqvist with 55 shots.

Edmonton mustered 22 in the opening 40 minutes before tacking on 15 more in a desperate third-period bid. This, against a depleted Rangers defence that featured four players named Neal Pionk, Rob O’Gara, John Gilmour and Tony DeAngelo.

The average NHL tenure of those four defencemen prior to Saturday was 15 games. Edmonton didn’t come close to exploiting that.

Of course, that doesn’t include the goalie these woeful Oilers drew: undrafted Bulgarian Alexandar Georgiev, who donned the pads at the NHL level for only the third time.

He was, as so many backups have been against Edmonton this season, fantastic in collecting his first ever NHL win. Yes, the Oilers are back in familiar March territory, getting teams’ backups in meaningless, irrelevant games, and watching him pose post-game with the puck.

Wasn’t that supposed to change in this city? Does it ever change?

Head coach Todd McLellan can’t have any more ideas. He comes to the rink at 5:30 every morning. If he works any longer hours, they may as well buy him a bed at Rogers Arena.

“We didn’t engage at all in the first period. We weren’t interested at all in … even stick battles. Fifty-fifty stick battles,” he spat. “We weren’t interested even in that.

“They had their way. We slowly got into it as the game went on. Too late.”

I did a radio interview on Saturday, and the first question went something like this: “Of all the things that have gone wrong in Edmonton this season, has Cam Talbot been one of the biggest issues?”

Well, Talbot’s numbers (3.12 GAA, .903 saves percentage) don’t defend him well, and there is no question he hasn’t been as consistently sharp as he was last season. But the game we saw Saturday was a template for what he has faced this season, behind a team whose derelict defensive play makes it impossible for any goalie to build confidence.

On New York’s first shot, Kris Russell gave the puck away twice. Edmonton’s defensive zone coverage was completely askew, and the shift ended when Kreider took a cross-crease pass and buried it behind Talbot, who might possibly make that save once in 100 tries.

“Second shift of the game we get scored on,” McLellan said. “I mean, half the team hadn’t even touched the ice.”

Then, on a Rangers power play, Talbot makes two saves in close. No one wearing orange can clear the puck, and on the third shot within about a three-second span, Mika Zibanejad scores from about three feet out.

Then, on New York’s third goal, a harmless Cody McLeod wrister is re-directed at the top of the crease. The score is 3-1, and Talbot has played very well and not had a prayer on any of the goals.

Find me a goalie who faces chances of this calibre nightly, and yet builds confidence in his own game, as puck after chance-less puck flies past. It’s impossible to like your game when the quality of chance is of as high a pedigree as Talbot faces nightly. Then you let one in that you had a chance on, and they look at you like, “Stop something, will ya?”

But with this team, the lack of compete starts early. On the first shot, most nights.

“It’s something we’ve been trying to find the answer to all season, and obviously haven’t,” said Connor McDavid.

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Edmonton has 17 games left in this entirely disappointing, depleted season. If it plays like it played Saturday, the way it has for so many woebegone periods in so many games this year, who knows how many people will get fired this summer.

But those people — namely the coaches — can’t do a damned thing about a bunch of players who only seem to give a care once their own level of play hits a point that embarrasses them into action.

“We can wave the magic wand, we can pound on the desk, we can do all we want,” McLellan said. “They (his players) have to accept some individual responsibility to be ready to play. There’s not enough of them right now.

“Tonight’s start was unacceptable.”


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