Oilers offence learns a lesson or two in ‘tough loss’ to Blues at home

Gene Principe and Mark Spector discuss Edmonton's tough outing against St. Louis, how the Blues dictated the game, how the Oilers will need to master these low-scoring games, and look ahead to hosting the Penguins in the final homestand.

EDMONTON — Every team has a plan, and the Edmonton Oilers’ plan is to make every game a race to four.

They are happy to play 5-4 or 4-3 hockey any night, and with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and crew, the Oilers have enough skill to make the playoffs doing just that.

But, as the old Mike Tyson line goes, What happens when they get punched in the mouth?

What happens to their plan when the burly St. Louis Blues come to town with an airtight defensive game, the referees give Edmonton only one power play and the shots are 23-22 in as low-event a game as you’ll ever see at Rogers Place?

They failed to score a goal in a 2-0 loss. That’s what happens.

There was a time when we would have given the Oilers credit for staying with the Blues in a game where St. Louis scored five minutes in, and not again until an empty-netter with a minute to play.

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Not anymore, however.

“We’re not in the business of taking moral victories,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft, whose team played out-of-character hockey and — to be honest — played it pretty well Saturday.

Still, they lost, and are 2-3 with the finale of a six-game homestand set for Monday against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“They are a well-rehearsed team,” defenceman Tyson Barrie said of the Blues. “They have been through the wringer and understand what it takes to win and the style of game they need to play. They are a defensive team. They don’t trade chances.”

We’re not saying the Oilers need to be that team for 82 games. Or that we’d even want a team like that here. It’s a stultifying style the Blues want to play, and we much prefer the 5-4 game.

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But it wins. And when the playoffs arrive, this game will await Edmonton. You never know when it might rear its head, but in every series, this game awaits.

If you cannot win it, then you cannot win. It’s as simple as that.

“As it gets more physical (in the playoffs), you have less time and space,” said Oilers defenceman Brett Kulak, who played on a similar team in Montreal that made its way all the way to a Stanley Cup Final not long ago. “The ice just kind of shrinks up a little bit and the plays aren’t pretty. It is just those little small battles, the five- or six-foot passes that make the difference at the end of the day.”

Or the tiny mistakes, like the offensive-zone tripping penalty that Draisaitl took early in Saturday’s game, that resulted in the game-winning power-play goal.

You never know when the critical minute of a game is being played, and on Saturday it came just five minutes into the game. Draisaitl took the bad penalty and Torey Krug made the Oilers pay with a power-play blast.

“It was just one of those games where you maybe hope for a bounce,” Draisaitl said, “but we didn’t even get ourselves into the position to get a bounce. It was a tough loss.”

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Scoring first would perhaps be somewhat of a solution, as this game was played entirely on the Blues’ terms. It might not have been if it were Edmonton in the lead early, and the Blues who were chasing.

But that’s not a strong suit of an Oilers team that has scored first in just 34 of 87 games since the start of last season. Jack Campbell was phenomenal Saturday, but takes the loss having allowed only one goal — the game’s first.

“This is our fifth game of the year, and we have played, in my opinion, five one-goal hockey games — (with) some empty-net goals here or there,” Woodcroft said. “Right now, we’ve won two of those one-goal games and we’ve lost three of them. So, there’s definitely things that we can work on to improve.

“We can play faster than we are right now.”

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