EDMONTON — The French Connection, the Production Line, or Gretzky, Kurri and whomever — none of those were the best lines in the game of hockey.
“Two places you should never make a drop pass,” Tommy McVie once said. “At home, and on the road.”
The Edmonton Oilers drop-passed their way to a 2-0 first period deficit, then clawed their way back to lose 3-2 in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres. It was a solid 40-minute effort by the Oilers in which neither Connor McDavid nor Leon Draisaitl had a point, though Draisaitl hit two posts.
As Pat Quinn would say, with Zack Kassian back on their wing, the Oilers top scorers played like a couple of “Fancy Dans” in Period 1, passing up shot attempts in favour of low percentage passes that didn’t cash Sunday.
“The big guys tonight, they thought they were back together and that they could just get ‘er going here with lots of passes. That they could pass it in the net,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “I was yelling just like the fans were: ‘Shoot the puck!’ Standing behind the bench yelling at them to shoot the puck. We didn’t have the right mindset when we came out … and it cost us a point.”
Edmonton has now lost 24 straight games when both McDavid and Draisaitl do not score a point, a stat that points to what we already know: more forward talent is required here before GM Ken Holland’s work is done. Edmonton has yet to win this season, in any of the six games where Draisaitl went pointless.
McDavid, the Oilers captain, did not speak to the media post-game.
Oscar Klefbom tried to explain why the Oilers have opened their four-game homestand with losses to Ottawa and Buffalo, and sandwiched a 2-1 squeaker over the Los Angeles Kings in between.
“We’ve got to be better,” said Klefbom. “We should be in the front seat in a game like this, and outwork these guys. We’ve been playing some really good hockey, but it’s just every other game.
“We play our best hockey when our work ethic is there, and then our skill takes over. If we start in the wrong end, try to be fancy and cute, and try to make open net goals and find the seam, we’re not that team yet,” Klefbom explained. “We’ve been focusing a lot on trying to be ready when the puck drops and having a good work ethic and outwork them. We know we have the skill and the potential, some of the best players in the league, that can produce for us.”
There’s a team here that can shut opponents down when they play a more straight-ahead game. Edmonton trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes, then held Buffalo to 10 shots on goal through the next 40 minutes. But the fallback from that success is always a light, skill game — one that works at the All-Star Game but nowhere else.
Riley Sheahan scored on a breakaway, and Joakim Nygard deflected a Darnell Nurse wrist shot, as the Oilers changed their mindset from the fisherman who only wants to keep 25-pounders, to a guy who’ll haul in whatever the seas give him, just to feed the family.
Klefbom is right: there is a team here that can defend well enough to stay in games, so that McDavid, Draisaitl and/or the powerplay can win it for them. On this night, that formula was a goalpost or two from panning out.
“But as a team, we have to be ready and bring the work ethic,” he said. “When we play our best hockey is when the skill comes in second place, and that usually takes over when we ground the teams down and get them tired.”
Meanwhile, this game marked the return of former Oilers coach Ralph Krueger, unceremoniously fired by then-GM Craig MacTavish over Skype. He was asked Sunday morning if he’d talked to MacTavish since.
“Nope, never talked to him and really don’t need to,” Krueger said.
After Colin Miller shovelled home the overtime winner, in an overtime session where Draisaitl twice gave up possession, Krueger walked out of the rink with a smile so big, it might not fit inside the Skype screen.
“It’s real nice,” he beamed post-game. “They (the Sabres players) know the story and they know the history. We have an honest culture in there and we’re just out for each other. It was a beautiful victory here especially because of the character we showed to get it.”
Here’s the reality: Edmonton had a 7-1 start to the season. Since then they’ve gone 11-9-4.
Carolina closes out the Oilers’ homestand on Tuesday. It’s anyone’s guess which Oilers team shows up, and for how long.