TORONTO — You wonder how it could possibly get more embarrassing for the Edmonton Oilers. And then, somehow, it does.
The bright lights of a nationally televised game against the Toronto Maple Leafs revealed an Edmonton Oilers team that wasn’t ready for the moment Wednesday night, as an Oilers club en route to its 12th playoff miss in 13 years was steam-rolled 6-2 by the Eastern Conference contenders from Toronto.
“It’s unfortunate,” observed Milan Lucic. “When you’re playing on the big stage game’s on coast to coast … Everyone’s watching you. You don’t want to come out feeling like this, and losing 6-2.
“It’s disheartening, that’s for sure.”
Connor McDavid, who was returning after serving a two-game suspension, was unable to conjure up any magic, notching an assist on a minus-2 night. He was mercifully spared from facing the media post-game, after having spoken at length at the morning skate.
The Oilers dominated the first period, but scored just once. The Leafs dominated the opening eight minutes of the second period, and scored four times.
It’s the difference between an NHL team with a shot at a Stanley Cup run, and an Oilers club playing out the string with too many AHL players, average goaltending, and an inability to look at a roster like Toronto’s and truly believe it can win.
“We’ve got to come together as a group,” said defenceman Oscar Klefbom. “The first 20 (minutes) was pretty good, and then we just gave it away, basically, in the second.
“We’ve been playing pretty consistent, but tonight was not even close.”
Goalie Mikko Koskinen lasted just 21:01, pulled after the Leafs had sifted four goals past him on 16 shots. Behind an uncompetitive defence, Koskinen never gave his team an important save, allowing yet another goal when he was unable to catch a puck that lay there for Patrick Marleau to deposit.
Koskinen, who next year begins a three-year deal that pays him $4.5 million a year, is an NHL goalie with an AHL glove hand. It’s a problem, with the league’s shooters zeroing in on that suspect mitt nightly.
When Koskinen arrived in Edmonton last fall, then-GM Peter Chiarelli warned that he had a little trouble catching pucks. Alas, that was one of the few things that Chiarelli nailed this season, and now he leaves behind one of the NHL’s most suspect contracts ever bestowed on a goalie.
“We came with the right attitude and the right game in the first period,” said Lucic, who made two lovely passes in the opening frame that linemates Colby Cave and Josh Currie were unable to bury. “Then we allow one or two goals in the second period to deflate us. We didn’t work in that second period.
“We haven’t had a period in a while like that, where the other team outworked and out-chanced us like that.”
The first thing that strikes you when you gaze down the lineup sheet of a Maple Leafs versus Oilers game is the depth at forward. Toronto ices young forwards like Andreas Johnsson (two goals), Connor Brown (whom Edmonton sought in a trade on Monday) and Kasperi Kapanen. That’s below the real stars, like Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Marleau.
Edmonton has McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and then a bunch of Bottom 6 forwards. Four Oilers forwards have played more games in the AHL then the NHL games this season, while NHLer Tobias Rieder would not make the Leafs roster, and has not scored a goal in 49 games this season.
On Wednesday, McDavid’s two wingers from his last game were in the press box (Ty Rattie), and on the fourth line (Zack Kassian). The depth is nonexistent, and on Wednesday the Oilers roster was exposed by a well-built, deep NHL club.
“We started real well,” said Sam Gagner, who played on the top line with McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins. “But they make you pay when you make errors, and we made some in the middle frame there. Before you know it, they score a few.
“We prepared well, we were ready to go to start the game … Gotta find a way to bounce back tomorrow.”
What would you like him to say?
The Oilers aren’t going to beat these Maple Leafs on many nights, and this was a game where the better team rolled right over the inferior one, without having to play anywhere near the full 60.
These teams meet again on March 9 in Edmonton. It’s hard to think it can get any less competitive than this one was.