Your veteran players are supposed to lead a team. Unfortunately for Edmonton on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, that’s exactly what they did.
High-sticking penalties in the third period by Milan Lucic and Zack Kassian — the latter as needless a penalty as you could ever take — ended up as two Flyers power-play goals and a 5-4 Flyers overtime win. The Oilers controlled the game at five-on-five but lost in overtime, dropping a point in a game where — outside of a horrendous penalty kill — they won’t play much better.
“This one is unfortunate, because we played a hell of a hockey game,” said Ken Hitchcock, who plugged a few holes with some All-Star break scheming, only to see a couple more open up in Philly.
The Oilers will build off the positives here, as they should. The five-on-five formula was successful, with fresh line combos that separated centres Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. So much so that Hitchcock was able to stay with his lines for most of the game.
However, it is fair to say that this is a team that simply finds a way to lose, and it’s awfully hard to argue that after Saturday’s comeback win by the Flyers. Kassian had an excellent game, with all kinds of speed and even a shorthanded goal. But then he took the penalty he’s been taking since he was a rookie — a high stick 150 feet from his goal for no reason whatsoever at a crucial moment — and all of his good work gets undone when the puck crosses the line on the Flyers’ power play.
At least Lucic’s high-sticking penalty came when he was lifting a Flyer’s stick in the slot. An effort penalty. Kassian’s was indefensible, and one we’ve been watching since he became an Oiler.
You just can’t take those penalties and win games. Not when you’re penalty-killing units are letting in four goals, as Edmonton’s did on Saturday. So the question becomes, can you build a winner when you have players on your roster who make the same mistakes over such a long period of time?
Our guess would be, probably not.
This was the Flyers’ fourth game back from their All-Star break, and turned into their seventh straight win. Meanwhile, Edmonton had 10 days off prior to this matinee, and have now lost four straight.
So, as McDavid said, “We kind of had to catch a moving train, and I thought we did a good job of that.”
McDavid appeared rested and dominant, and the tweaks Hitchcock made to the Oilers’ game looked effective at five on five. A return of Oscar Klefbom, who skated pre-game but did not play, would tie a few loose ends defensively, but five-on-five this was an excellent effort.
Sadly, special teams count too. And the Oilers took a lickin’ on that front, going 0-for-3 on the power play and giving up four goals on five Flyers power plays.
And when your PK is struggling, you should take only necessary penalties. But we’ve discussed that.
One And In
The Sportsnet Stats crew reports that since the start of the 2016-17 season, both the Oilers and New York Rangers have surrendered a goal on the first shot-against in a game 23 times — tied for tops in the NHL. The vast majority of those goals would have come against Cam Talbot, which does not surprise any Oilers fan.
But what about the fact Henrik Lundqvist would be just as culpable in the Rangers’ nets? Does that suggest the trend speaks more to the team than the goaltender?
It happened again to Talbot Saturday in a game in which he played stellar, saving a point in the dying seconds of regulation with a flurry of saves. A quick three-pass combo on an early Flyers power play left Talbot completely helpless on the game-opening goal, a prime example of how that particular stat can be as much a team stat as a personal one for the netminder in question.
Certainly on this day it was.
One For Dad
Exactly one year after losing his father suddenly and unexpectedly during a visit to Edmonton, Adam Larsson scored a beauty goal in Philadelphia.
Last January, Robert Larsson had just arrived in Edmonton when he suffered a heart attack. He never recovered, and son Adam posted on Instagram in the wee hours of Feb. 2, “Dad. I love you. Always had. Always will.”
A year later, Larsson walked in from his spot on the right point and lasered a short-side wrist shot past Carter Hart. It was not the kind of play one sees often from Larsson, who averages about three goals per season in his NHL career.