EDMONTON — It’s the beauty of sport: Just when it seems like the game is getting easy, it gets hard. Real hard.
One game after Connor McDavid had six points, and Leon Draisaitl five, McDavid was on the ice for the last seven goals scored in a 5-4 come-from-ahead Oilers overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, while Draisaitl was on for ice for six of the seven — four Dallas goals, three for Edmonton.
After closing out the second period with a lovely one-timer to give Edmonton a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes, Ethan Bear was walking on air. Then, he took the minus on both Stars goals in the third period.
Thud! Right back down to earth.
"It’s a good lesson," McDavid said post-game. "Up 4-2 in your own building, you have to find a way to get two points."
McDavid ended the night with three assists and an average shift length of 1:14, roughly a half-minute longer than the 45 seconds that has come to be accepted as an average NHL shift length. He and Draisaitl never left the ice in overtime, with Jamie Benn ending this affair 1:14 in with just his second goal of the season — belying Benn’s $9.5 million cap hit.
It was, as they say, a "high event" night for the Oilers’ top players, which is usually a good thing. And we won’t dump on the National Hockey League’s two leading scorers for staying out in OT, for the amount of time we spend celebrating how dominant they are in the extra session.
But it’s games like these, where a sure two points turns into one salty loser point, that have to go by the wayside if these Oilers are going to become the team they want to become.
"I have a saying I use all the time: Every play counts," began head coach Dave Tippett. "It could be a change, just a puck that has to get out, or it could be a play that — instead of (making) a hope play — you just put it into an area and you live to play another day.
"Every play counts … and tonight we tempted fate with that. We gave away some of those plays."
Dallas dominated the third period after having been dominated in the second. The delightful pair of Dallas D-men, Miro Heiskanen, who played 28:20, and Esa Lindell (30:14) took turns bringing their club over the Oilers’ blue-line in waves, finally tying the game at 18:11 of the third.
Tippett, who has spoken many times of his intent to turn this Oilers club into a truly good team, not a team that just has a good season, recognized parts of this game that can be used as a "learning tool."
"But in the middle of March, you’re not going to have time to have learning tools. You’ve got to be a good team by then — if you want to be a playoff team," he said. "We’re in the middle of November. I want us to recognize that in the middle of March, when we’re playing really hard games, those are plays that really count."
The support scoring that has been absent on so many nights emerged from the stick of Jujhar Khaira, who scored twice, while Josh Archibald had his best (though still point-less) game of the season on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ flank. The Riley Sheahan-Khaira-Patrick Russell line pinned Dallas in their D-zone for much of the night.
There was just a certain looseness to Edmonton’s game. A carefree style that can in equal parts win games like this one 7-2, or turn a 4-2 lead into a 5-4 loss.
It’s a long season. There will be games like this one, and Thursday’s 6-2 win over Colorado, where the stars stay out a few seconds longer and pucks are flowing into nets. It’s November — we’re not batting down the hatches yet. At least not here in Edmonton, traditionally.
But Tippett is right. The days will arrive when the playoff teams win this game, and the non-playoff team loses it.
You want to find yourself on the right side of that equation, and learning how that happens occurs in games like this one.
"We’re taking steps. From where we were to where we are now? There are steps ahead," Tippett said of how his club is evolving. "We’re recognizing situations that the good teams do. But now we just have to do it more."