EDMONTON — A house of nearly 17,000 showed up for Guaranteed Win Night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, as bad a team as there is in the National Hockey League.
The problem was, it appeared the Edmonton Oilers arrived with the same guarantee in mind.
In the end, you can debate whether it was a point gained or a point lost for Edmonton, after Kent Johnson’s overtime snipe gave Columbus a 3-2 victory. Amazingly, in his last game at Rogers Place, Johnson was scoring the Golden Goal for Team Canada at the World Juniors.
“Chances that we didn’t capitalize on. A couple of soft turnovers,” said Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, when asked what went wrong. “Not as sharp as we have been in the last couple of weeks. So, you take the point, but obviously we dropped one.”
It’s amazing that a team can win six straight with solid, direct hockey featuring a work ethic that carried them past Vegas, Seattle and Tampa, among others. Then the Blue Jackets come to town and all of those elements go missing.
Edmonton offered up a game full of 45-foot hope passes, poor defensive decisions, brutal puck management by the blue-liners, and very average work by a top-six that had been mighty good since Christmas.
“They played back a little bit and kind of challenged us to try and play through them. Maybe we got a bit stubborn at times and didn’t dump it in and go get it or put it in good spots to get it back,” said Oilers defenceman Tyson Barrie. “Give them credit. Their goalie played well and they played a hard game and made it hard on us and stuck around.”
Did the Oilers take Columbus lightly? In hockey parlance, that’s a fairly weighty insult.
What we’ll say is, they didn’t take Columbus seriously enough to realize that a soft, skilled, east-west game wasn’t going to get the job done. Edmonton didn’t respect the Jackets enough to dig down for it’s ‘A’ game until it was too late, and blew a 2-1 third-period lead against a team that has only won four games on the road all season long.
“I think we maybe overcomplicated things a little bit,” allowed the Oilers Derek Ryan, who scored his seventh of the season. “We are better when we are keeping it simple and getting in on the forecheck. If we are getting it in and getting the puck back and then hemming teams in the O-zone, then that’s where we want to be.”
Edmonton definitely was not that team on this night. Stuart Skinner gave them every chance to win, allowing only two goals in regulation, but his skaters just didn’t have three snipes in them on a slumberous evening at Rogers Place.
Jesse Puljujarvi was Edmonton’s best forward for stretches of this game. Yet in the end his score line read 11:00 of ice time, five shots on goal and a couple of Grade A chances. But neither a goal nor an assist to show for his efforts.
Connor McDavid logged a power-play assist, and now has a point in 28 of his last 29 games. But not even the best player on earth was operating on all cylinders in this one, a classic egg-layer at the end of an impressive, season-high six-game heater.
“I saw a lot of bobbled pucks, stick-to-skate passing. Not as crisp as we had been,” assessed Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft, who lamented the turnover count — 27 for his team against 10 for the Jackets. “But we had a 2-1 lead going into the third period against a team that was competing very hard against us.
“In the end we made a mistake, got rolled out of a corner and beat to the net and ended up with only one point instead of two.”
In the end, it was a night of mistakes, by a team that did not resemble the one we’ve watched since the Christmas break.
Still, the Oilers got a point and are 6-0-1 in their last seven, and 9-3-1 since Christmas. Beat Chicago on Saturday and they’ll enter their All-Star break on a tidy run and ready to challenge for the Pacific Division title upon their return to play.
Well, we’re not going to go there …