EDMONTON — They had a game like this one coming, the Edmonton Oilers. But man…
Couldn’t they have saved this effort for a Monday night? Or a Wednesday?
In the first of a three-game set at Rogers Place against the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs, the Oilers just didn’t have enough going to beat a good team on Hockey Night in Canada. There were chances, but very few of the dangerous or close-in variety as Leafs backup Jack Campbell was steady, but never needed to be spectacular in posting a 4-0 shutout.
“We just didn’t deserve to win this game and that’s that,” said centre Leon Draisaitl, who like all of his teammates was somewhat less than awesome in this game. “It’s pretty obvious that they just out-battled us.”
Truly, this was just a lacklustre effort on Edmonton’s part, not nearly enough to beat the best team in the North. The challengers did not even put a scare into Toronto, which pulls six points ahead of Edmonton.
“We got beat,” said a dead-honest head coach Dave Tippett. “We weren’t sharp enough, and they played a strong game. We weren’t sharp enough to win. So we got beat.”
Coming into this showdown, the Oilers had been on a wicked heater, winning 11 of 13, eight of their past nine, and five in a row. They’ve been celebrating a new hero every night for some time now, getting superior goaltending, goals from their third and fourth lines, and plenty of points from league leaders Connor McDavid and Draisaitl.
On this night, Tippett played every card in his hand, rolled four lines for most of the evening, and still kept coming up empty. It was simply an off night for Draisaitl, McDavid couldn’t break free after a first-period look didn’t go in, and the depth players just could not find a way to deliver.
“We couldn’t really get to their net front. We got shots on net but they weren’t very dangerous, or any second attempts,” said Draisaitl, who didn’t agree that the Oilers were due for a stinker. “No, but I guess every team has an off night every once in a while. I guess tonight was ours.”
How bad was it?
• Darnell Nurse, who entered the game with the second-best plus-minus among NHL defencemen at plus-15, went minus-3
• McDavid played 20:15, but had only one shot on net, zero points and was also minus-3
• Draisaitl’s wingers, Dominik Kahun and Kailer Yamamoto, combined for one shot on goal on a rare quiet night for the distributing centre.
• Goalie Mike Smith, who was 6-0 with a 1.73 goals-against average and .944 save percentage, looked merely mortal, giving up four goals on 29 Leafs shots. No doubt Mikko Koskinen will get the start on Monday in Round 2 against Toronto.
Perhaps the most telltale sign that the Oilers weren’t taking the play to Toronto on nearly enough occasions? The Leafs never took a penalty, the first time all season the Oilers power play did not hop over the boards in a game.
“We didn’t earn any power-play time tonight, it’s pretty simple,” Draisaitl said. “We didn’t work as hard. Need to regroup — back at it in two days.”
There was one power play in the entire game — a Kris Russell holding call — and William Nylander buried his eighth of the season. It turned out to be the game-winner, scored late in the first period.
Who would have predicted that?
“You have to use it as a lesson, just like some of those games we were winning in different ways,” Tippett said. “We didn’t capitalize on anything, couldn’t get a kill on a penalty, and we chased the game the rest of the night.”
You can’t say much when the hottest team in the NHL since Jan. 30 loses one. Even if it is a disappointing one to lose, against Toronto on Hockey Night.
“It’s a tight league. Every night is going to be difficult,” observed defenceman Caleb Jones. “But the one thing we can do consistently is win battles, win one-on-ones. We were losing some of those tonight, myself included.”
The same teams play here on Monday, and then again on Wednesday.
Said Jones: “We’re already looking forward to the rematch.”