Sometimes you get the schedule. Sometimes the schedule gets you.
Missing four of their top nine forwards to injury, the Edmonton Oilers were playing their sixth game in 11 days, with only one at home. Truly, it was like a six-game roadie, ending with a back-to-back that included an 8:53 p.m. local puck drop the night before in Chicago.
Look, every teams gets a schedule like this at some point. And now it was Edmonton’s turn — the worst they’ll get over the course of a season.
“The schedule hasn’t been kind to us the last little while,” Connor McDavid said, “but every team goes through it. It’s tough travel, especially when you play up in Edmonton.
“But give (Minnesota) credit,” he said after the 5-3 loss to the Wild. “We made some mistakes, they made us pay.”
Oiler head coach Jay Woodcroft played his best players as long as it took to collect the points Wednesday night in Chicago. Mission accomplished in a 5-4 win.
Now it was Thursday in St. Paul, Minn., and Edmonton was going to need a new hero. Alas, there were none in a loss to the Wild where the Oilers led halfway through but then faded away. The Oilers limp home with a split in the Central time zone, awaiting the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Place.
“I think those are excuses,” began Woodcroft, when presented with the evidence.
In fact, on this night — after getting to the hotel on the final game of the trip at 3 a.m. — it more reason than excuse.
This marked seven straight wins for troublesome Minnesota over Edmonton, in the first of three meetings between these two clubs inside a seven-game stretch for Edmonton.
“Tonight, our guys gave it everything they had,” Woodcroft admitted, “but we just made a few too many small errors that ended up in the back of our net.
“We’re battling through a little bit of adversity. Our schedule has been what it has been — all teams go through that. We’ve had major injuries. Four of our top nine forwards are out. We’re asking people to move up the lineup.
“We’re scratching and clawing,” he added. “I think our team spirit is there, but our polish of being able to — night in night out — get the results that we want to get hasn’t been there.”
In the end, Edmonton crawled through this tough stretch at .500, and comes home for four against Montreal, Washington, Arizona and Minnesota — starting with a much needed day off on Friday.
“If you look at it like a six-game (road trip), it’s 3-3,” Woodcroft said. “We’re happy to go back home, get some rest and get ready to take on Montreal.”
A Little Help
One guy who can’t be tired, however, is goalie Jack Campbell. This was only his third game in three weeks (21 days), and once again, Campbell gave his team below-average goaltending.
Sure, he stopped a few decent chances along the way. But since signing that five-year, $25-million deal this summer, has Campbell ever stood on his head and stolen a game with a first-star performance? Even once?
Here are his numbers: a 4.12 goals-against average, a save percentage of .872.
The Oilers are in trouble with this signing, and they are thanking their lucky stars that Stuart Skinner has been the vastly better goalie this season. Although Skinner is likely to get three of four starts on the coming homestand, Campbell is paid to be a No. 1, and he’s not even a decent No. 2 at this point.
Remember, Campbell had his big reset, where the team gave him 12 days off between starts to retool his game. His save percentage in his three starts since returning have been grim: .903, .870 and,against the Wild, a crippling .833.
League-wide, Campbell is 52nd in save percentage among the 54 goalies who have played eight games or more. His goals-against average is also 52nd in a field of 54.
His cap hit of $5 million is tied for 14th in the NHL, however.