The good news is, they’re not the Vancouver Canucks. The Edmonton Oilers are no longer a team that plays hard for 40 minutes, blows a lead, and issues quote after post-game quote about how they competed hard, played well, and will take the lesson home and be better for it.
Finally, the Oilers expect to win. And blowing a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes does not have a bunch of guys telling us how well they played, or how close they were.
“You can say you played a good second (period), whatever you want,” said defenceman Tyson Barrie, who was dynamic Saturday with a goal and an assist. “At the end of the day that’s not the team you want to be, where you have a two-goal lead and you give it up with seven minutes to play. That’s a game we have to learn how to close out.”
Toronto turned a 3-1 deficit after 40 minutes into a puncher’s chance in overtime, and Auston Matthews banked a shot off of Leon Draisaitl, then Darnell Nurse, and then behind goalie Mike Smith, who was stellar in the OT loss. It was pinball perfection, after which Matthews submitted, “I’ll take it…”
It was the perfect example of a team that failed to close it down, let the opponent have a chance to have a really lucky break win them the game, then saw it all unfold.
This happens, even to good teams. But true contenders don’t let it happen in a first-place showdown like this one.
Sure, Toronto scored two goals on ridiculous bounces, and a third on a fortunate carom right onto William Nylander’s tape. That’s not an excuse for losing.
“You’ve got to create your bounces a little bit, too,” Draisaitl said. “Two bad bounces, but it shouldn’t lead to that, in overtime.”
Four straight losses to Toronto leaves the Oilers stirred, but not shaken.
“Of course we can beat that team. There’s no question about it,” Draisaitl said defiantly. “It’s a good team — we’re a really good team. It’s always tight games, but there no questioning in our heads if we can beat them.”
After losing three times to the Leafs in Edmonton, then holding a 3-1 lead with seven minutes to play, you hit another level of maturation. Not the Canucks’ level, where they’re trying to figure out how to contend in a game like this. But a contender level, where you want to be the team that others look at and say, “Man, we’re down 3-1 with seven minutes to play? This is over…”
“We didn’t play well enough to win the game. We gave up too many chances, didn’t execute well enough,” head coach Dave Tippett said, his standards not having been encroached upon by this performance. “We expect to play well every night. We have an expectation within our group that we can play with anybody. To come in and not play as well as we’d like, nobody is happy about that.
“It was a winnable game, even though we didn’t play very well, and we didn’t win it. We’ll re-rack and get back at it again Monday.”
In a rare twist, the improbable news broke Saturday morning that this would be Connor McDavid’s first-ever Saturday night game against the Leafs in Toronto. “The league usually runs us through here on a Monday or Tuesday,” he said.
After compiling but a single assist between them in that three-game debacle at Edmonton, Draisaitl and McDavid were the two most dangerous players on the ice Saturday. They combined for five points and were magical, while Barrie and Nurse gave Edmonton two goals from the blue line, a stat that is accompanied by the proverbial ‘W’ likely 90 per cent of the time.
Alas, the other three forward lines dropped the ball.
Dominik Kahun provided his nightly costly turnover on one goal, while second-line centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went minus-2 without a shot on goal.
The level at which Edmonton’s two superstars play is sometimes unfathomable, and it won’t take much support to make this Oilers team into a Stanley Cup contender. But there isn’t enough below them at the moment, and we would expect Tippett to deploy them on separate lines in the rematch Monday night, after the Leafs’ second line scored twice to forge their comeback.
Edmonton has a good team, one that has played five games against Toronto this season that were basically coin flips.
But they’ve lost too many of them to say ‘they’re ready.’
Close, but not there yet.