That edge. That advantage.
The intangible that allows the two teams to play straight up, even Steven hockey for two years now, but with the Penguins coming away with eight points to the Oilers’ two loser points.
“Honest to God, I have nothing left to say,” said Oilers winger Patrick Maroon, his team floundering at 3-7-1. “We just have to find ways to win hockey games right now. We are not winning them and we can sit here and talk about what we need to do, but enough is enough. We just have to find ways to win these games.”
Chances? Shots on goal? Territorial advantage?
When these two clubs play there is nothing to choose between them. Until the chips are down, that is. Then the Penguins reach for what champions always seem to find.
On this night, in a game that was tied at 2-2 after 40 minutes, it became a special teams battle. No problem. Pittsburgh killed two third-period penalties, and then Evgeni Malkin scored the winner on their only power play of the frame.
He walked through the Oilers PK unit like a king through peasants, rifling a puck under Cam Talbot’s mitt.
“We needed a stop, the penalty kill,” said Mark Letestu of a unit that has cost the Oilers dearly this season. “We had two early (power plays) in the third and they came up with kills. Then their power play found a way to get them one.
“It’s a sore spot, for sure. We’ve got to fix it, and fast. It’s costing us hockey games,” he said. “There’s nobody coming the guys in this room can fix it. We’ve got to do it.”
It was another 50 per cent night for the unit (2-for-4), which has killed just 13-of-24 penalties at home this season. Those are playoffs missing numbers.
“This one is pretty hard to swallow right now,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored his fifth of the season. “We were right there the whole game. There wasn’t much separating us. If anything I thought we outplayed them a little bit.”
That could be Edmonton’s anthem against Pittsburgh, a club they haven’t beaten in regulation in 15 games now (12-0-3). The last two seasons have provided a boiler plate:
• In a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh last year, Edmonton choked when then-Oiler Benoit Pouliot inadvertently fired the winner into his own net.
• In the rematch at Edmonton, the Oilers dominated the back half of the game and overtime, but couldn’t convert on a winning goal. Then Phil Kessel sealed a win in a shootout.
• In Pittsburgh eight days ago, Matt Murray and Talbot put on a goaltending clinic. Again, Edmonton stared down enough chances to score four or five goals, but needed a late Connor McDavid goal to push the game into overtime at 1-1. Kessel ended that one too on a breakaway feed from Malkin.
Then there was Wednesday night, when the Penguins sashayed out of Edmonton with their fourth one-goal victory in as many games against the Oilers.
“The pattern is similar from game to game and it’s something we have to break, obviously,” said disappointed head coach Todd McLellan. “I thought tonight was a pretty competitive night against the Stanley Cup champs. And I thought it was even. We had some real good looks around the net again, including with 15 seconds left.”
This one swung on the final minute of the second period. McDavid reached to redirect a Patrick Maroon pass but missed it. It was one he converts likely 50 per cent of the time, and would have give Edmonton a last-minute, 3-1 lead leading into the dressing room.
Instead, the puck ended up on Sidney Crosby’s stick going the other way. He settled a rolling puck on a two-on-one and made a deft pass across the slot to Conor Sheary who scored. It was the tying goal with 22 seconds left in the period — a back breaker.
“It went from a scoring chance at one end, very close to a goal on an entry, and it ended up being a 2-on-1 going back the other way,” said McLellan, who still hasn’t got a goal this season out of Zack Kassian, Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, while Ryan Strome and Milan Lucic have one each.
Can Edmonton win without some other people scoring, besides Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid or Leon Draisaitl?
Said the coach: “I think we’re answering that question with our record.”