Only on Monday morning was Oilers coach Todd McLellan talking about why his team had put together a tidy 8-2-1 skein. It was a new hero every night. A power-play unit one day, a fourth line the next. Perhaps a goalie stealing a game.
That’s how you win in the NHL. With variety.
The problem? It is also how you lose, as McLellan would experience later that night in a 4-2 loss at Washington.
The difference in this game? Two fourth-line goals. Maybe a save like the one Mikko Koskinen had made two days before in Detroit, or perhaps a puck that hit two Oilers players and landed right in the wrong place — on Alex Ovechkin’s tape for a power-play snipe.
Maybe some production by a third line that does everything well — except for the big thing: Scoring goals.
Here are our takeaways from Washington, filed under the heading: “You don’t get to win every night.”
Win Some, Lose Some
The Oilers fourth line won them a hockey game in Detroit Saturday, when centre Kyle Brodziak scored twice in a 4-3 win.
But in Washington, we weren’t six minutes into the game when the Oilers fourth line found themselves at minus-2 on a pair of goals by the Caps’ fourth unit. It was the difference in a game that the Oilers chased from the outset, and never quite caught up to.
The role of the fourth line is pretty clear: Don’t give anything up, and if you score the odd goal it’s a bonus. We get it when you’re on the road and the opposing coach gets his first line out against the fourth unit, and a goal goes in. Mismatches happen.
But this? This was inexcusable — two shifts, two goals against by the Caps fourth line. It’s hard enough to win in Washington. Spotting the Caps two early goals makes it nearly impossible.
It was a move you could see coming for a long while, and finally McLellan pulled the trigger, yarding the eternally cold Milan Lucic off of the first power-play unit, replacing him with the red hot Alex Chiasson.
At $6 million per — and the de facto replacement for Taylor Hall on GM Peter Chiarelli’s roster — Lucic now has two goals in his past 60 games. He had two more Grade A chances on Monday, but Lucic has found a way to defy that old hockey adage that says, “As long as the chances are there I know the goals are going to come, eventually.”
They don’t come.
Now. Later. Seemingly ever.
After scoring in the season opener, Lucic has been a good player for Edmonton in many ways. But … he … never … scores … a … goal.
Lucic continues to hustle and create chances, while entering the game ranked third in the NHL in hits. So he’s doing things — but at $6 million the record shows that he was, on Monday, a third-line, second-unit left-winger. For that money, let’s face it: the red light has to go on more than once every 30 games or so.
Hey, it’s not all bad.
The wins that Edmonton has under its belt allow us to look at a loss at the home of the defending Cup champs, and a split in the season series with Washington, and say, “Meh, that won’t kill ya.”
They were nowhere near outclassed, and with a break or two could have escaped with a point. Edmonton is 1-1 on this road trip with a game Tuesday in Tampa and Thursday against Florida. Win one of two and you come home at .500 on the trip, with a couple home games against Colorado and Montreal ahead.
Good teams don’t lose two in a row, though a back-to-back that ends in Tampa will surely test that mettle.
Nothing Doing, Doing Nothing
In 10 games this season, Jesse Puljujarvi has yet to come away as a plus player. He had zero shots on net again Monday, and has a 1-0-1 stat line this season that pretty tells you how much impact he has on a nightly basis.
His centreman Ryan Strome has not produced a point yet this season, and that line’s left winger is Lucic. It’s a black hole in Edmonton’s offence, one being supported by some unexpected offence by Chiasson (six goals) and Drake Caggiula (five goals).
This third unit will have to fire up when Chiasson and Caggiula eventually cool off. These are all offensive players. Two goals in 38 man games for this line is simply not enough.
With Ty Rattie ready to draw back into the lineup, we wouldn’t be surprised if Puljujarvi watched from the press box in Tampa.