Oilers devoid of momentum after another listless performance

Jonathan Quick turned aside all 29 shots he faced, while Adam Fox, Braden Schneider, and Artemi Panarin each collected two points apiece as the New York Rangers shut out the Edmonton Oilers 3-0.

EDMONTON — There is no heartbeat, no connective tissues binding a team that skates back and forth with the personal familiarity of rush hour in Manhattan. 

There is no bite, zero cohesiveness and even less swagger. They are expectant of bad fortune, devoid of momentum. Every time a line hops over the boards, it’s a restart, not a continuation of work that began with the previous group. 

Their game is hope, not expectation. The losing starts with common puck battles, moves on to line matchups, and ends on the scoreboard, with a 3-0 New York Rangers victory that easily could have been three or four goals worse. 

“We’ve got to be better,” said Darnell Nurse, of the 1-5-1 Edmonton Oilers. “Everyone just look in the mirror at this point, and we’ve got to be a whole lot (expletive) better.” 

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Not even an analytics wizard could save this Oilers team right now, beaten 14-8 on high-danger chances by the Rangers. No numerical hocus pocus could paint a picture that didn’t look as bad as the one that 17,939 people — including nearly 100 alumni, in town for Doug Weight and Charlie Huddy’s Oilers Hall of Fame inductions, plus Sunday’s Heritage Classic — bore horrific witness to. 

“I’m sure the eye test matches how it feels out there,” said Zach Hyman. “We haven’t collectively played our best period or best game. You haven’t seen what we’re capable of yet. That’s frustrating. Everyone has to take it upon themselves to bring the best version of themselves for the Sunday.” 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins liked 40 minutes of their game Thursday. Nurse and the head coach favoured just 20 of the minutes. Hyman pointed out that, amidst all this talk of defensive deficiency, “We didn’t score any goals. 

“We are an offensive team and we scored zero goals today,” Hyman said. “A lot of the blame has been on or D-zone or our defensive system, or our defence, but we didn’t score anything today.” 

A new day, a new deficiency. Or not… 

“I’ve been here for nine years, and it’s always been the D,” said Nurse. “For us, we do have to be better. We can’t be relying on our goaltenders to make five, six two-on-one saves a night. Putting our partners in bad spots. 

“That said, there are six guys on the ice at all times. We’ve got to be out there helping each other.” 

There were absolutely zero positives from an Oilers perspective, other than the post-game news that Connor McDavid had skated on consecutive days and had not yet been ruled out for Sunday’s visit by the equally bad Calgary Flames. 

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There, after an identical 3-0 loss on home ice to the St. Louis Blues, Flames defenceman Nikita Zadorov said, “I just want to apologize to our fans. We’re playing like (expletive) right now.” 

Three hundred kilometres to the north, Hyman was asked what he would say to Oilers fans? 

“It can seem like the end of the world,” he said. “We have to dig ourselves out. The fans have seen this team have slow stretches and then come out of it. They’re a patient group, and they care about this team. They know that the players in here care and are going to bring their best efforts on Sunday.” 

It’s a lot of hope to think that the demons that have inhabited this team’s game can be exorcised simply by swinging open the gates to Commonwealth Stadium, waving the red Flames sweaters like a cape, and the Oilers will be the bull that so many expected them to be this season. 

It’s a prayer, really, to hope that a contrived setting like the Heritage Classic could cure an illness that has festered through seven games played in traditional rinks. More voodoo than medicine. 

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But that’s where this team is. That’s the straw at which they grasp. 

“It is outdoors. There’s going to be a lot of excitement in the city. It’s something different,” offered head coach Jay Woodcroft. “Our hope is that maybe that is something that jump starts us. That gets us all on the same page here and working together to try and find those two points.” 

Having scores of alumni in the building Thursday did not spark the kindling, however. So maybe this next gimmick will turn the trick. 

They can only hope. 

“Almost everybody has somebody here, friends, family, people you care about or who have helped you along the way to get to where you are at,” Hyman said. “If you can’t get up and show up for a game like Sunday… 

“This is a game that we all are going to be ready for and need to be ready for.”

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