If you’re here to read about everything that is wrong with the Edmonton Oilers, you’re in the wrong place.
If you are the kind of hockey fan who thinks a top team should be able to win every single night in the NHL, regardless of injury or opponent, then sorry. We’re not on the same page.
Edmonton went into Seattle with half of its defence straight off of Bakersfield’s AHL roster, had a rookie goalie in the net who played only so-so, and was on their way to playing their No. 7 defenceman another 25 minutes in the game.
The result? The Oilers lost their first game to a Pacific Division opponent all season Friday, dropping a close 4-3 decision to Seattle. And they were THIS close to getting the game into OT.
Hey — at 16-6, we’re not going to take apart an Oilers team that was an eyelash away from pushing this game into overtime, despite a roster that had No. 7 defenceman Kris Russell playing 22:36, while Tyson Barrie logged 24:38 of ice time.
Could they use more from the Bottom 6 forwards? Yep.
Was Stuart Skinner simply OK in the Edmonton net? At best.
Look, you don’t get a backup who plays lights out every night, the way Mikko Koskinen has so many times this season. And even a power play that has led the league for three seasons sometimes only gets you one goal, not the second one that was required to get this game into overtime.
Remember, the other team is trying too. And this Kraken team — a club that has lost just one of its past seven games in regulation — is finally starting to feel it.
“We had a bit of a push, clawed our way back into it,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “You want to tie that one up late, but …”
In the end Seattle got what it deserved, their first win in the Division on a night where they had few passengers and the better goalie.
Now Edmonton comes home for six straight. They haven’t lost two straight games yet this season, and that skein will be on the line when Los Angeles visits on Sunday night.
Black and Blue-Line
It sure looks like the Oilers back end is getting worn down, but maybe not in the way we’d expect.
It wasn’t like call-ups Marcus Niemelainen, Philip Broberg and William Lagesson played so poorly. It was more about the coaching staff leaning on the pairing of Russell and Barrie for too long before finally deciding to break them up and share the load in the third period.
Remember, Russell is a No. 7 when this D-corps is healthy. And Barrie is an excellent offensive defenceman who gets by defensively, but will never be confused with Adam Larsson in his own zone.
Both Russell and Barrie played more than 26 minutes Wednesday against Pittsburgh, and were on their way to roughly the same minutes Friday, playing 16:08 and 17:43 respectively through 40 minutes.
But like any player who is being used out of his depth — Zack Kassian on the first line, for instance — they can only survive so long before the leaks begin to show. They showed Friday in Seattle, which is expected. If Russell was a 24-minute D-man he’d be on a top pairing making $6 million, not earning $1.25 million as a solid insurance policy.
Did the young blue-line fail the test in Seattle?
“Hard to say. There are no excuses,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “We’re competitive in the game, we’re hanging in there — there were probably a couple that Skins would love to have back — we had a couple of the power plays that we didn’t capitalize on. … We shot ourselves in the foot a bit, but we were right in the game, right to the end.”
Niemelainen showed well in just his second NHL game, while Broberg gave us some brilliant flashes in his sixth NHL contest. Lagesson hung in there defensively on a plus-1 night, and rookie Evan Bouchard scored a goal and led the team with 24:37 in ice time — in just his 43rd NHL game.
Was this a tougher slog for the kids, Tyson Barrie?
“I don’t know,” he said. “There were some mistakes in our end, whether it was missing a guy or turning a puck over, and it ends up in the back of your net. It’s on all of us. I thought the young guys on D played well tonight.”
The 500 Club
With an assist on Bouchard’s second period goal, Nugent-Hopkins collected the 500th point of an NHL career that has spanned 678 games.
He went first overall in the 2011 draft and will no doubt play 1,000 games as an Oiler after signing a new, eight-year deal this past summer.
Nugent-Hopkins has turned into a well-rounded, multi-faceted player who makes your team better all over the ice.
And this season he’s on a point-per-game pace (2-20-22 in 22 games), trending towards the best offensive season of his life at age 28.
“I’m lucky to have played with some great players,” he said of his 500th. “I’ve been part of the Oilers the whole time. I’m definitely happy to do it with these guys.”
Leon Draisaitl, meanwhile, played in Game No. 500, scoring his 21st goal in his 22nd game of the season. He’s still pushing that 50 goals in 50 games pace, though there’s still a mighty long way to go before that becomes a realistic event.