Positive signs for Oilers despite blown lead, loss to Sabres

Jack Eichel found the back of the net on a penalty shot in OT to get the Buffalo Sabres over the Edmonton Oilers 3-2.

Mike Smith said he wanted to make more “big saves,” and he made a handful of those Thursday night in Buffalo. Leon Draisaitl commented on his own game, and used an expletive to make it clear his defensive work just wasn’t good enough.

Then overtime came along in Buffalo, and neither player gave the Edmonton Oilers what they had asked for from themselves.

Smith, who played well enough to deserve a win, was beaten on his fourth consecutive breakaway — a Jack Eichel penalty shot in overtime — and it was a lazy “fly by” by Draisaitl that caused the penalty shot in the first place, aptly identified on the broadcast by analyst Drew Remenda. Draisaitl’s game was much better Thursday — until it wasn’t, and Eichel busted in and was hooked for the penalty shot call.

In the end, it was a 2-0 first period lead that ended up as a 3-2 overtime loss for Edmonton. Wasteful, it seemed, when you watched an Oilers team that just didn’t seem to have the killer instinct required to extract both points from Buffalo.

“It’s kind of the same story,” captain Connor McDavid told reporters in Buffalo after the game. “We’re up 6-1 and we give up four goals last game. We’ve got to find a way to defend a lead better.

“It’s frustrating,” he continued. “We didn’t get two points tonight, but there are lots of games left.”

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The Big Takeaway

For the second straight game the Oilers took a 2-0 lead, and for the second game since Kailer Yamamoto was called up from Bakersfield, head coach Dave Tippett had some symmetry to his lines. A better defined top and bottom six, with McDavid being flanked by James Neal and Zack Kassian, and Draisaitl playing next to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto on Lines 1 and 2.

When general manager Ken Holland looked at his farm club, he saw two wingers who might be able to come up and spark the offence: Tyler Benson and Yamamoto. He decided on the right-winger Yamamoto despite the fact that injury has limited him to only 27 games last season and 23 this year.

You can’t say the Oilers rushed the player — he has spent a year-and-a-half in the AHL. But despite the fact he has only played 50 games, they recognized a player who can arrive with something the Oilers need.

Now that he’s here, he does look ready, collecting an assist to go with the empty netter he scored in his debut against the Rangers on Tuesday. Yamamoto is small but he separates opponents from the puck, and has the requisite hands to trade pucks with Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins. Pushing Joakim Nygard into the bottom six is a better for the Swede, and it reunites the solid depth line of Riley Sheahan, Josh Archibald and Jujhar Khaira, which scored again.

It was a rare night that Draisaitl and McDavid combined for just a single assist. One more play from the pair and two points would have been likely, and getting a point when that duo is less productive is likely good news for Edmonton, which got goals from Nugent-Hopkins and Sheahan.

Quick Hits

Head coach Dave Tippett saw a wasted point here. His club led 2-0 just seven minutes into the game, and never managed another goal against a Buffalo team that is in the bottom third of the NHL in goals allowed.

“I liked that we played a strong first period,” Tippett said, “but I knew we were going to have to raise our level the rest of the game. And we just didn’t.

“The game just kind of went along and we just didn’t grab it. We gave up two goals where we got outcompeted in front of the net. Our coverage in front of the net wasn’t adequate tonight.”

Up Next

Edmonton gets a day game in Boston on Saturday afternoon, a scenario that has never been great for harvesting points. Then it’s off to Toronto, Montreal and Calgary — at which time we’ll know how badly they rue letting this point get away in the trip opener in Buffalo.

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