EDMONTON — So here we are.
A three-game losing streak. A suddenly powerless power play.
A 9-1 start followed by a 7-7 stretch. A lull that is inevitable in any 82-game season, yet one that makes you wonder: Which record is the real Edmonton Oilers, the 9-1 or the 7-7?
Because today they are winless in the first two games of a homestand in which they’ve been outscored 9-2. The Oilers were much better in a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday than they were in a 5-1 beatdown by Los Angeles on Sunday night, but Cam Talbot looked as unbeatable as Jonathan Quick had, and the Wild’s scoring chances piled up behind Mikko Koskinen at even a greater rate of efficiency as the Kings’ had.
You knew they wouldn’t win nine of every 10-game segment. But .500 hockey through the next 14 games? Three losses in a row?
Like, what does it all mean, Connor McDavid?
“That’s what a good start gets you. It buys you time. It buys you a little bit of a lull,” the Oilers captain said. “Obviously we’re going through a little bit of a lull and we need to figure it out.
“I remember maybe my second year, we kind of did the same thing where we got off to a great start and played .500 for probably a month or two and then got back on a roll. Obviously the good start has bought us a little time here but we can’t rely on that. Obviously we’ve got to get back in the win column on Thursday.”
Boston visits on Thursday, followed by Carolina, Toronto and Columbus.
Good teams, like Edmonton was for a while there.
“Eventually, when you have that many injuries on defence, it catches up with you,” said Dave Tippett, after a few minutes on the podium. “That’s a little bit of where we are. We had lots of try, but we made some mistakes that cost us. I think they scored on just about every Grade-A chance they had tonight, and we didn’t capitalize on our chances.”
Leon Draisaitl, once on a 50-goals-in-50-games pace, has now gone five games with just one goal. He’s at 21 goals in 24 games, as the ghost of Maurice Richard skates into the mist.
The Wild, as McDavid said, “are feelin’ it.” They’ve now won seven in a row, and needed far fewer shots (39-26 for Edmonton) and shot attempts (72-41 for Edmonton) to get to four, while the Oilers pounded pucks all night long and only scored once.
The Oilers won some games this season where their power play masked some average five-on-five play. Now, the power play is flat (0-for-5 Tuesday) and some pretty decent work at even strength went unrewarded.
“There is no panic,” said third-liner Zack Kassian. “I think we need to get a little more urgent, but we are not going to go 82-0. There are a lot of good hockey teams that face adversity. To be honest, I think it will be good for us.”
He’s right. Everyone goes through a stretch of mediocrity.
We see it every year, with every team. But in the moment, runs like the one the Oilers are on make you wonder what a team is made of?
“We got off to a hot start and were getting points when maybe we didn’t deserve it,” Kassian said. “Our record speaks for itself, but at the end of the day now we are in a little bit of a slump with good teams coming in. I think it is a good chance for us to grab a hold of it here and be ready for Boston.”
Edmonton is trying to prove it isn’t a two-man team, but the Oilers are not convincing anyone of late. McDavid and Draisaitl have combined for just (2-3-5) points in the past three games, and Edmonton has five goals to show their efforts.
Only one goal in five that neither Draisaitl or McDavid was in on. That does not define “support scoring.”
And, as usual, Edmonton was behind 1-0 at the 1:11 mark on a shaky goal against Koskinen.
“Yeah, he’s got to know where that puck is, coming from behind the net,” said Tippett.
He’s been appreciative of Koskinen’s work overall, since Mike Smith went down in the third game of the season. But Koskinen’s knack for allowing an early stinker is hard to stomach for a coach whose team has gotten into a bad habit of falling behind early in games.
On Tuesday, the third line started, gave Edmonton a solid shift, and then Evan Bouchard took a penalty. Koskinen allowed a powerplay goal, and boom — we’re in “Here we go again” territory.
“There was a soft call to start the game, a goal you’d like to see saved, and you’re chasing the game,” Tippett said. “The next one was a three-on-three rush that we should defend better, and you’re chasing the game.”
Chasing the game. Chasing their tails. Chasing the ghosts of a 9-1 start.
The Oilers are mired in a funk. Now we learn how — and behind who — they manage to dig themselves out.