EDMONTON — These are the games the worker bees have to carry you through, if there is to be any honey at the end of the day. When someone not named McDavid or Draisaitl, Neal or Nugent-Hopkins needs to step up and help win a hockey game.
That becomes a problem in Edmonton, however, where despite an excellent 8-3-1 record the Oilers still can’t win a game that their stars don’t win for them.
“I know for myself, I don’t have any shots in three (of the past four) games. It’s tough to score,” said Alex Chiasson, a 22-goal man last season who is goal-less in 10 starts this fall. “That’s where my game’s at.”
“They played the way we would like to play,” observed defenceman Oscar Klefbom. “They were stronger, they won a lot of loose pucks. They didn’t give up much, and we didn’t create much. Their goaltender played well, and they found a way to score on us.
“We’ve got to play better. Especially at home.”
So, you lose a game. It’s going to happen. And with 17 points, Edmonton remains atop the Pacific and tied for first in the Western Conference. But there is pressure building here, and that pressure did not find its release valve on Sunday.
The heavily questioned Oilers’ bottom six forwards did nothing to disprove the theory that they simply don’t have the punch needed to support stars like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal.
“We’ve got to find something down there to create some opportunities, and I really feel that once †hey get on the board, get going, everyone will loosen up a little bit,” said head coach Dave Tippett, who dressed seven forwards who do not yet have a goal. “When you’re chasing the game, it’s harder for them. They haven’t contributed as much as they’d want, and I think a lot of those guys are feeling that pressure.”
Nugent-Hopkins has one goal this season. Zack Kassian has three, but hasn’t scored in nine games. The Oilers’ goals came from Neal (10) and Draisiaitl (9). After the game, McDavid was retroactively awarded a secondary assist on Draisaitl’s goal.
The Big Takeaway
We’ve gone on at some length about how the question mark that was Edmonton’s goaltending tandem has turned into a team strength, with both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen turning in solid start after solid start. The one constant worry however, is Smith’s health — he has a history of making visits to the injured reserve list most seasons, and he is 37 years old.
On Sunday, Smith appeared to injure something late in the first period, causing some question over whether he would come out to start the second. When he did come back, he faced three shots — all goals — and was pulled.
As it turned out, Smith had taken a Mike Hoffman blast right off the cup, and the effects of that pain were long gone when the second period began. Still, it was three goals in a span of 1:05, and he was pulled at the 2:36 mark of the second.
“Our goaltending has been very good,” Tippett said. “Tonight it was average.”
The story here isn’t goaltending — it’s the Oilers continued trend of trailing in games.
“Especially when you get down two or three,” said Smith. “It’s one thing to be down one — someone’s got to score first, right? You start feeding teams two or three and … you’re not going to come back in a lot of those games.”
Stat of the night: Through 12 games, the Oilers have led for 188:30 minutes and trailed for 195:38.
• A young defenceman is going to have nights like this one. It’s just that Ethan Bear has been so solid, we’d forgotten he was only playing career NHL game No. 30 on Sunday.
On the Panthers’ third goal, Bear tossed a puck up the boards that was picked off and in his net a second later, a play we haven’t seen much of this season. He was minus-three on the night, but did add an assist.
“Just unlucky reads,” he said. “Like the third one — I didn’t see the second guy coming down the wall. I’d have made a harder play if I knew he was there.
“Gotta bounce back.”
• Koskinen beat Detroit, 2-1, 10 days ago in Edmonton, and we’re betting he gets the net Tuesday in Motown, with Smith starting the next night in Columbus.
• General manager Ken Holland was down in Bakersfield watching games on Friday and Saturday. He’ll meet the team in Detroit when they arrive Monday.
Edmonton sets off Monday afternoon on a three-game roadie: Tuesday in Detroit, Wednesday in Columbus, and then Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.