Cracks in Oilers’ roster turning into crevices as losing streak continues

Auston Matthews scored a pair of goals as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-1.

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers lost a player and a head coach to COVID-19 on Tuesday, and dropped their sixth straight hockey game, this time to the Toronto Maple Leafs by a 5-1 score. In their six-game losing streak — the last five games at home — they have not led in a game for even one second.

And that’s the good news.

Worse yet, the way they are losing does not behoove a club that fancied itself a Pacific Division contender this season.

“We had a lot of good chances and none went in,” opened winger Warren Foegele, who had four shots on goal himself. He is blessed, however, with hands that require five or six more chances before one might go in.

As the losses mount, and the cracks in Edmonton’s roster construction start to become crevices, there was a dire sense at the post-game podium Tuesday, attended only by Foegele, fourth-line goal scorer Colton Sceviour, and co-coach Jim Playfair.

“We just need to keep pounding the rock. We are not going to quit,” promised Foegele. “We need to keep battling every night and keep playing simple and pounding on that rock. It didn’t happen tonight, but we have to keep going. There is no easy way to get out of this. The only way to get out of it is to believe in each other and support each other and keep pounding away.”

Edmonton’s shortcomings, in a 5-1 beatdown at the hands of the Leafs, were both worrisome and numerous. To wit:

• Edmonton is not stout enough in front of the net — at either end. One and done at the offensive end, and manhandled in front of their own goal, Toronto goalie Jack Campbell stopped 35 shots but not one of the “difficult second-save” variety.

• Edmonton is simply not good enough five-on-five, a stat that speaks to a light, power-play reliant group. They are minus-15 in five-on-five goals this season, and now that the power play has cooled they simply don’t win.

• The Oilers are perilously light on right wing, where Kailer Yamamoto hasn’t had a shot on net in six games and has one assist all season despite playing next to the NHL’s leading scorer (Leon Draisaitl) in nearly every game. Jesse Puljujarvi is good when his centreman is good, but he doesn’t make anyone around him better when they are struggling. Not yet anyhow.

And Zack Kassian is a Bottom 6 winger at this stage of his career. At best.

“It’s pretty evident things have crept into our five-on-five play and now our special teams are off,” said Playfair. “We’ve talked about playing well, we’ve talked about having good stretches and having some grade A’s (chances). But ultimately we have to find two points.”

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Let’s face it: You shut down Connor McDavid and Draisaitl, as the Leafs did Tuesday, and you shut down these Oilers. Everyone in the NHL knows it, and it is no longer merely criticism.

It is a simple fact.

The depth players here are not capable of supporting their superstars or chipping in enough at even strength. It is the recipe for early playoff exits, and a clear sign of weakness when you can only succeed in games that are decided on special teams.

In five fruitless games of this homestand, Edmonton has scored six goals.

Fragile? Oh, boy, are they fragile.

On Tuesday night, Draisaitl had an empty net early in a 0-0 game — and missed the net entirely.

“Yeah, very fortunate,” Campbell said. “I’ve definitely never seen him miss one of those so we’ll take it and move on. Definitely a little prayer (on that play) and I think I let out a little scream, too.”

Trailing 1-0, Edmonton had the first eight shots of the second period. Then the Leafs came down and scored a fourth-line goal on their first shot on goal.

Wayne Simmons overpowered Tyson Barrie down low, scored a tap-in goal, and the Oilers fell behind by two in a period they had absolutely dominated.

“There are no easy solutions,” began Playfair, who will coach this team alongside Glen Gulutzan until some time after Christmas when Tippett is eligible to return. “It’s about working our way out of it. It’s about digging in and it’s about being hard to play against in all three zones.

“It’s about managing the puck better, it’s about handling the adversity of it. It’s about better starts. It’s all of the above. It’s the consistency of being prepared to do it.”

It might also be about this roster.

It is not as good as it once looked.

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