The Edmonton Oilers’ moment of reckoning has arrived.
The time when they can continue to believe they are that team that doesn’t let the bad karma hang around. That they find a way to turn losing streaks around before they get out of hand.
As of this morning, the Oilers are the last team in the NHL to lose three games in a row this season. Everyone else has slumped but them, but here they sit, after some sloppy defence and even below average goaltending resulted in a 6-5 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.
“We talked about that this morning,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett told the Edmonton Sun post-game. “This is the first little bit of adversity that’s hit us. I talked to our leadership group in there to make sure we stay together.
“This is the first real test for them. It’ll be interesting to see them make sure they can keep that group together in there. We’ll see how our leadership does.”
The Big Takeaway
Will Edmonton immerse itself into a long run of futility, or stem the tide? Will the Oilers be able to look down the standings and say, “Calgary lost six straight, Vancouver lost seven of eight, Vegas lost five in a row, San Jose started their season at 0-4 then lost five straight a couple of weeks later…”
Or, having lost three straight — and gone 2-5-1 in their past eight — is Edmonton heading where everyone else has gone, into a prolonged losing streak?
“We’ve got to dig in here,” captain Connor McDavid told the Sun. “We’re in a bit of a rut. It starts with the top guys, all the way through the lineup. I’ve got to be better.
“We’re not panicking, It’s three games — I think we’re the last team to lose three in a row. Every team’s gone through it, we’re going through it. We’ll find it here.”
For the second straight game the Oilers allowed six goals. For the second straight game the goaltending was lousy.
But for the second straight game they roared back to tie the game in the third period, then watched their opponent pull away once again.
“We’ve got to do a better job of shutting it down,” said Leon Draisaitl, who scored his 20th on the same night that McDavid did likewise. “We spend so much energy fighting back… First of all we do it too often and too much. But if you fight that hard to come back you want to be rewarded.”
Not Enough Takeaways
Mike Smith. Discuss among yourselves.
The Oilers goalie faced too many Grade A chances on Thursday, but perhaps did not stop any of them in another loss, his sixth in his past eight starts. Smith’s saves percentage now starts with an eight — .896 — as his early season heroics fade into the 37-year-old’s rear-view mirror.
“There were some breakdowns in our zone. As a goalie you want to cover those mistakes up and make some saves,” he said. “The last two games, you let in six as a group, you’re not going to fare too well.”
There were plenty of reasons why the Oilers blew another comeback, tying the game with two third period goals and then watching Minnesota score twice in 1:08 to restore their two-goal lead. It starts in goal, where Smith simply did not give his team a big save all night long.
“Every team goes through a bump in the road through the season,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to play a complete game. We’ve got to recognize what we need to do better, stop talking about it and go out and do it.”
Truly, if you stop at Smith when it comes to defensive responsibility, you’re kidding yourself. The goaltending isn’t good enough, sure. But this kind of defensive play doesn’t cut it, plain and simple.
Draisaitl was an even player on Thursday, the first time in nine straight games he has not been in the minus. McDavid has been a minus player in seven of his past 13 games. He had two points in Minny and was a minus-1.
Those stats will look better if the team gets some saves, of course, a fact that Tippett is well aware of.
“You need some saves,” Tippett said. “They were good chances, really good chances. In the end you’d like to see some saves there.”
The Good Ship Oilers is leaking from more than one hole. Now we’ll see if this roster can dig in, turn things around, and stem the tide. Or, like so many Oilers teams of yore, was a good start simply a mirage?
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in for Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, a 5 p.m. MT start.
Could be some fire wagon hockey on tap.