When you looked at this Edmonton Oilers road trip, you saw games in Detroit and Florida that seemed winnable, and a back-to-back in Washington and Tampa that appeared, well, iffy.
So far it has played out exactly that way, and after a 5-2 loss to the Lightning Tuesday night the Oilers are in dire need of a win Thursday in Sunrise to go home with a .500 mark on the trip.
Edmonton chased for the entirety of this back-to-back, never once holding a lead in either Washington or Tampa while being outscored 9-4. The Oilers were in the games, but barely, and now sit at 8-6-1 while Tampa becomes the top team in the National Hockey League with 23 points (11-3-1).
How did this one go sour on Edmonton? Well, maybe when Ty Rattie stared at an open net, then watched his first-period shot carom off of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s head and over the net as he dove back into his crease, the Oilers might have diagnosed that this wouldn’t be their night.
From there, well, here are our takeaways:
It’s dangerous to sit back and say, “Well, they had plenty of scoring chances.” Or, “Maybe if the Oilers would have had a break or two, they could have won.” After a while, you accept defeat — as long as the team tried hard.
Then again, dropping back-to-back games at Washington and Tampa happens to a lot of teams, and you can’t mope because two of the league’s premier clubs beat you on consecutive nights.
Edmonton’s power play was excellent, even though it only went 1-for-4. They controlled the puck and had chance after chance. If that unit continues to work at that level, Edmonton will be fine.
Same with the penalty-killing unit, which went 5-for-6. But Tampa won this game at even strength, the second straight game the Oilers were killed by their 5-on-5 work.
Spreading the blame
One night after the fourth line and the top defensive pairing wore the goat horns in Washington, it was the second pair and the top line that took the boots in Tampa. Kris Russell (minus-4) and Darnell Nurse combined for a minus-6 night.
Meanwhile, with Rattie back on the top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid, Edmonton’s No. 1 unit went a combined minus-5, though the trio wasn’t together on all of those goals against.
In the end, it’s the old cliché about your best players being your best players. Edmonton’s top line had two points (a power-play goal), while Tampa’s top unit had six points, with Steven Stamkos scoring one and Nikita Kucherov twice.
Tampa’s big dogs won this game. It’s as simple as that.
Farm Jesse, please
We can all argue whether or not Jesse Puljujarvi should be in the lineup on a given night. He was, of course, made a healthy scratch in Tampa, the fifth such time in the last seven games.
But what no one will argue over is this: A 20-year-old isn’t being helped by sitting in the press box. It’s ridiculous not to commit to having Puljujarvi in the lineup every night — in either Edmonton or AHL Bakersfield.
In fact, isn’t Puljujarvi making the decision easier? He is clearly not able to make an impact at the NHL level, with one point in 10 games this season.
So what on Earth is this prize prospect doing on the NHL roster?
There is absolutely no good reason we can think of. Send the kid down, for Pete’s sake.
One bright light? How about a point for Ryan Strome, who scored on a dandy wrist shot in the second period. It was his first point of the season, in his 15th game.
Strome and linemate Milan Lucic have actually made a lot of good things happen, and have had made more than their share of plays on more nights than not this season. But like the team on this night, trying hard isn’t enough. Between them they have two goals — not enough for two veteran players who earn $9.1 million per season between them.
Edmonton will get offence from its top line with McDavid, Line 2 with Leon Draisaitl (who scored Tuesday) and have a few eight-to-10-goal guys on the fourth line that will chip in once in a while.
We know the blue line will be challenged to produce points, so this third line needs to contribute. Now.