EDMONTON — It’s a fragile fan base here in Northern Alberta, and how could you possibly blame them?
A decade of playoff misses was followed by a 103-point season two years ago, and finally, some playoff success. But as fast as Taylor Hall could win a Hart Trophy — boom! Dysfunction returned with a vengeance last season.
You’ve heard about the hockey gods? Well, Edmonton has been home to the Hockey Grinch for some time now, so you’ll have to excuse folks for wondering — as Colorado issued Edmonton its fourth straight loss with a 4-1 walloping at Rogers Place — if this year’s Oilers team is turning into last year’s Oilers team, right before their very eyes.
“This is not like last year’s team,” declared Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson. “We still have a strong belief system in here. I don’t even want to compare it to last year.”
Yet, here we are again. An 8-2-1 run convinced fans here that their team was for real. And it still might be.
But now they’ve lost four straight, the latest a disinterested 4-1 beatdown in which the Oilers scarcely competed for the two points until the Avs, with a 4-0 lead, sat back in the third period.
“If you … play like that for two periods, you’re probably not going to beat a single team in this league,” said Leon Draisaitl.
When you drag a three-game losing streak home from the road there is supposed to be urgency. Alas, there wasn’t an ounce of that to be found on Sunday, as fans booed their team’s power play and cheered when goalie Cam Talbot was pulled, allowing three goals on 15 shots.
“They outworked us, were faster to pucks. They scored four goals and we only scored one,” said Oscar Klefbom. “They played good today but we were not even close to where we need to be. Especially after we’d lost three on the road. This was a big setback.”
Klefbom, unlike Larsson, is willing to discuss the toxins from a 78-point failure last season that may still be floating through his team’s system. You can cleanse, sure, but if you don’t change your ways the poison only returns.
“We have to prove to ourselves that we are a consistent team,” Klefbom said. “All the good teams are going to lose some games, but we’ve got to get on the winning train faster. You can’t let two games slip, three games slip … . Now it’s four.
“If you’re hoping to be a playoff team every year, you have to be more consistent than we are. We can beat Nashville on the road; we can play really good hockey. But this? That’s not good enough. That’s not going to be enough to get us into the playoffs.”
Colorado, of course, snapped a five-game losing streak with the victory. Mikko Rantanen took over the NHL scoring lead with a goal and an assist, boosting his numbers to 6-20-26.
Tyson Barrie, whose father Len was drafted by the Oilers back in 1988, became just the third defenceman in Avalanche franchise history to reach 200 helpers. Career goal No. 62 tied Rob Blake for third on Colorado’s all-time list.
“That one is cool because Blake was my favourite defenceman growing up, and I wore No. 4 growing up because of him,” Barrie said. “I ended up playing for Colorado. It’s special.”
Edmonton hosts Montreal on Tuesday. The film session on Monday will be scorching, we’d guess.
“We’ll look at the way we’re cutting corners a little bit,” said head coach Todd McLellan.
“If I said we’re not connecting, I don’t know if that would make any sense to everybody,” he said, trying to explain. “We’re spread out; we’re not close; we don’t execute. We have some structure that we need to rely on to predict where pucks might go and to read and react off each other, whether it’s on the forecheck or in the D zone. And we’ve gotten away from that.”
Milan Lucic, who now has two goals in his last 63 NHL games, saw the least ice time of any Oilers player at 11:35. He had an assist on the lone Oilers goal (a Ty Rattie deflection) but was the epitome of sluggish on this night, and he wasn’t alone.
This is a team that forgot how to win last season. They remembered for a while in October, but November has arrived and with the snow has come little success.
“The key (here) is sometimes trying to cheat the game, trying to do it the easy way,” McLellan explained. “You can’t win the easy way. Our anticipation skills are on the cheating side instead of being on the predictable side.
“It’s hurting us defensively and we’re not getting much offensively.”