LAS VEGAS — The Edmonton Oilers could have won this game in the opening 15 minutes. Should have, really, because they didn’t have 60 minutes of chasing down the Vegas Golden Knights in them Wednesday night.
Injury-riddled and on the back end of back-to-back road games, Edmonton stayed in this game against a red-hot Vegas club as long as one could expect before ol’ Bessy just couldn’t keep chuggin’ along anymore. In the end, they lost 3-0 on a night where the other guys had better goaltending and — on the rare occasion this season — better special teams as well.
“We needed a powerplay goal,” lamented Leon Draisaitl. “We had enough chances to score, especially the first two powerplays. Just couldn’t get one over the line.”
Draisaitl had copious chances to notch his 100th point of the season but just could not scratch the itch.
“Other than the second period I thought we played a solid game. We created chances. But nights like that, they happen,” he shrugged. “We’ve probably won a lot of games this year where we created a lot less than tonight.”
In the opening 15 minutes, Draisaitl did everything but finish. He later rang one off the post with the score 1-0, early in the third.
Connor McDavid missed on a pair of chances in the opening 12 minutes that he buries nine out of 10 times. And legendary goalie Marc-Andre Fleury did his Gumby act in the Vegas nets, weathering an offensive storm that could have — should have — yielded at least two early goals, if not more.
Then the puck went down the other way, and the red light went on. A Max Pacioretty rocket from a bad angle that should never go in — especially when the guy at the other end is denying everything — flew short-side on Mikko Koskinen, and even though he played pretty well after that, a beat up Oilers squad needed perfection, and that was provided only by Fleury at the other end.
Edmonton dominated the first period and trailed 1-0 at its conclusion. Ouch!
“They were the better team tonight. I don’t think it was just a hot goaltender,” McDavid said. “They get one on the powerplay, it’s a back-breaker, made it 2-0 with 10 minutes to go. We start the third on the powerplay, and if we find a way to get one there it’s a different game.”
The good news is, Edmonton got three of six points on this road trip, the middle stage of a run that sees them play nine of 12 games on the road, from Florida, to California, to Nashville and Chicago.
The bad news? They’ve now dropped four of their past five.
The injuries are starting to catch up, and Andreas Athanasiou left this one with a lower-body injury in just his second game after coming over in a trade from Detroit.
“It’s been a hard go here, the schedule, and we’ve had players play hard,” allowed head coach Dave Tippett. “We’re hanging around and finding a way to get points. Saturday we get Kass (Zack Kassian) back, and I think we’ll slowly start to get some people back in the next little bit. Hopefully everyone who comes back is fresh and rested, and can help the cause here.”
Edmonton entered the game minus injured players Oscar Klefbom, Kailer Yamamoto, James Neal, Joakim Nygard and Kris Russell, while Kassian was serving the final game of his seven-game suspension for kicking. Kassian will return Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets, but the fatigue you can plainly see comes from players playing more than their usual minutes for too many games in a row.
“I liked our first period,” Tippett said, “but once we started chasin’ the game, you could see the fatigue factor creeping in.”
As for Koskinen, he made a series of circus saves in the second period to maintain his team’s chances of winning, but alas, he’s not the first to have been outplayed by Fleury. On this night he was just that — the second-best goalie in this game.
“Vintage Flower,” said Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer, whose tendy stopped all 29 shots. “We don’t get out of the first period unless he plays the way he does. He was fantastic.”
Edmonton has a one-game homestand — a Hockey Night in Canada affair against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday — and then it’s back on the road.
They’ll need some horses back. There’s track left in the Pacific Division race, and Edmonton is running out of steam.