Oilers pile on Senators as Tippett's bet on McDavid-Draisaitl reunion pays off

Connor McDavid opened the scoring just 10 seconds into the game and added two assists as the Oilers beat the Senators 6-2.

EDMONTON — The polite way to say it would be that the Ottawa Senators don’t match up really well against the Edmonton Oilers.

That Ottawa’s young, mistake-prone roster — outscored 5-2 on average over seven consecutive losses to Edmonton — is the wounded wildebeest to Edmonton’s pride of hungry lions. Or that the Senators' creaky goaltending is the hanging curveball to the Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid’s green light on three-and-oh.

In reality, a season that has given us many unique visuals has given us one more: One team manhandling another seven times inside of 30 NHL games, beating them by an aggregate score of 34-15 while leaving a dent in the Senators’ pride the size of Marcus Hogberg’s 5.28 goals-against average versus Edmonton.

Even in the playoffs, they stop after four straight wins.

“I thought we played, for the most part a pretty good game,” said Brady Tkachuk after the latest massacre, a 6-2 thrashing Friday night in Edmonton. “There are always stretches where momentum shifts, but it definitely wasn’t a 6-2 game.”

It wasn’t?

“I don’t see a 6-2 game tonight,” echoed head coach D.J. Smith. “We can’t take that many penalties, against this power play, and they got some timely, lucky goals, I guess.

“We didn’t manage the puck the way we have to, but our effort was there.”

Look, I’ve covered the Oilers since about 1991. I’ve seen teams that own another team — specifically, the old Oilers — but the schedule never put the Sedins’ Vancouver Canucks, Nicklas Lidstrom’s Detroit Red Wings or Mike Modano’s Dallas Stars up against Edmonton seven times in a half-season of hockey.

Seven times in 29 games this year for Edmonton — nearly one-quarter of their 2021 campaign has been played against Ottawa, the sad-sack club that is responsible for 14 of Edmonton’s 36 points.

Yet, somehow, 6-2 on a Friday felt a whole lot better than 7-1 on Wednesday for the Senators.

“We learned a big lesson in the last game. We got out-worked, out-competed, and that should never happen,” said Tkachuk. “It was a big moment for us to step up and make sure we're the team that worked the hardest.”

There is a fine line here, with due respect to a roster full of inexperienced young talents in Ottawa. An improved effort and competitive level in loss No. 7 is, we guess, in the parameters of a rebuild, a sign of progress.

But losing 6-2 two days after losing 7-1 can’t be something you clap yourself on the back over, though we understand how Smith is trying to build up his team’s confidence, not verbally dismantle it.

“Say whatever you want, those kids worked out there tonight. They competed hard,” he demanded, post-game. “We didn’t get the result we wanted, we just didn’t take care of the puck. But the effort and will to win was there.

“I think we deserved better tonight,” he said, before adding, “Their big guys — again — continue to give us major issues.”

Ya think?

Oilers head coach Dave Tippett would never admit it, but he was conducting a bit of an experiment this week. After more than a season of proving how effective they can be on separate lines, Tippett wanted to see what it would do to the overall balance, or the “rhythm” as he says, of his lineup if he put McDavid and Draisaitl back together.

Would he have done that if the week-long opponent was the Winnipeg Jets or Toronto Maple Leafs? We doubt it, and we won’t be surprised if they are back centering their own lines as soon as Monday in Calgary vs. the Flames. Or tonight in Vancouver.

But against Ottawa, Tippett gambled that his two superstars would bury the Senators all on their own, while the rest of his lines figured things out.

He was right: In seven games Draisaitl (seven goals, 10 assists) and McDavid (three goals, 13 assists) piled up 33 points.

A giveaway-prone Senators club just kept putting the ball on the tee for the NHL’s two leading scorers, and they kept striping it 300-plus down the middle of the fairway.

“In Edmonton, we’ve had our struggles (against them), but I thought we played right with them at home, where we could get a hard matchup,” Smith said. That’s fair — the scores were 3-2 and 3-1 in Ottawa, where the matchup was not nearly as lopsided as in Alberta.

“You also can’t take four penalties against that power play, and allow them free ice and feel the puck and feel good about themselves,” said Smith, considering the question about the bad matchup again. “That’s a fair assessment, but as our young guys continue to get better we’re going to be the guys that people are going to have a tough time checking.”

They will, to be sure.

That’s what they used to say in Edmonton, back in about 2010.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.