EDMONTON — The hope lies in that old hockey chestnut, which says you always drop a couple of games at the end of a losing streak that you likely could have won, and you tend to win one or two at the end of a winning streak that perhaps you should have lost.
Edmonton did not play poorly against Toronto. But they lost, 4-1. And that’s all that really matters.
“We did a lot of good stuff out there,” Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom said. “But it’s tough to stand here and say that because we lost two points. It’s tough to lose to a team like Toronto at Rogers (Place), obviously with a lot of their fans here.”
Edmonton was outscored 3-0 at five-on-five play, and lost for the seventh straight time to the Maple Leafs. It was anyone’s game with eight minutes remaining, the Leafs leading 2-1 and the Oilers on a full-court press.
But then Toronto got something the Oilers simply do not get enough of: an even-strength goal from their fourth line. It was a back-breaker that sent the Oilers to a fourth straight loss.
“The margin of error in this league is really small,” said winger Alex Chiasson, who scored on the power play for Edmonton’s only goal. “Our game, it’s not like we’re not showing up. We’re kinda there, but there is that little bit that’s not there, and that’s not good enough. That’s where we’re at right now.”
There are parts of the Oilers game that are good. Just never enough of them on the same night to result in a victory.
At five-on-five, the Oilers have been outscored 32-16 in their last 10 games. Their two big guns — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — were both minus on the night and are even and minus-four on the season, respectively, despite sitting one-two atop the NHL scoring race.
Draisaitl is on a run of nine games in his past 10 where he’s been a minus player. For McDavid, its eight of his past 14.
“Five-on-five we’ve got to be way better,” McDavid said. “Our special teams have been good. Five-on-five we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to find a way to produce goals and keep them out of our net.”
The Oilers received solid goaltending from Mikko Koskinen, but Frederik Andersen was superior in the Maple Leafs’ goal. Or, at least, the Leafs buried their chances, while Edmonton managed not to beat Andersen, the familiar bleat of a team on a losing streak.
“We just have to capitalize on some more chances,” Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett said. “The last couple of games we have created enough of what I call hard chances, we just have to find a way to capitalize on a few of them. We are getting a lot of pucks at the net, we’re just not finding anything in the net. We just have to find better results in our five-on-five play.”
Not enough dogged pursuit, said Chiasson. Certainly, not enough ugly goals by the bottom six forwards.
“The one thing lacked tonight,” Chiasson began. “It felt like every scoring chance was ‘one and done.’ That’s where our team, when we’re good, we get one scoring chance and then we find a way to generate a second one. We get a change and the next line comes in…Those are the little things we’re not doing well enough.”
Edmonton is officially in trouble here, losers of four straight with a bunch of very difficult opponents ahead on their schedule. They travel through Dallas and St. Louis this week, only to come home for a back-to-back next weekend featuring Pittsburgh and Montreal.
The depth scoring that was feared to be insufficient has completely disappeared, and now McDavid and Draisaitl have cooled down as well. The bounce-back game from Koskinen should earn him a start Monday in Dallas, but they need some goals from guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (one in his last eight games), James Neal (one in nine), and even McDavid, who has two goals in his past 10 games.
They’ve made a habit of falling behind in games, and when you can’t score at even strength, that’s a killer combination.
“Against a team like Toronto,” Klefbom said, “you want to be up 2-0 and make them fight for it. Tough for us mentally and physically going into Dallas and St. Louis but we have to come together as a team. It’s a playoff game every game until Christmas.”