‘We have to learn’: Oilers need to get back to basics after third straight loss

Noah Hanifin scored twice and Dan Vladar made 32 saves as the Calgary Flames walked to a 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers in the Battle of Alberta.

EDMONTON — How laissez faire is too laissez faire?

How confident is too confident?

How many 30- to 40-minute efforts can a good team roll out, before a “dip” or “lull” turns into something much more than that?

“I mean, it’s an 82-game season,” began Zach Hyman, after Calgary handed his Oilers their third straight loss in a 6-3 shellacking. “Would you like to play perfect every 10 game stretch? Sure. Are you going to? Probably not.

“At the same time, we’re getting closer to the playoffs and we’re still fighting for a spot. We have to learn that we can’t just flip it on and think we’re going to win every game in the third period. You have to start on time.”

How many selfish, needless penalties can Leon Draisaitl take before a 50-goal man’s butt should be stapled to the bench, the way 15 other guys on this roster would be if they tried the same act Draisaitl has been rolling out of late?

“It was an undisciplined, stupid penalty on my behalf,” he said of his second-period hook that turned a 4-2 game into a 5-2 game. “I certainly didn’t help our team tonight in that way, so I take full ownership for that.”

Asked if he’d planned to sit Draisaitl down for the remaining 5:51 of the period, head coach Kris Knoblauch deferred. “I hadn’t decided,” he said, a point made moot when the Flames took a penalty and Draisaitl — who had missed one shift — was sent over the boards with the top power-play unit.

Edmonton lost 6-3 at home to the Flames, and were full value for the setback. The Oilers showed up an hour late to the barn, forged a 3-0 deficit, and couldn’t recover.

They lost the night before to Minnesota after mailing in the first period. They lost in OT to Boston after simply going away in the second period, falling behind 4-1.

They’ve been a 40-minute team for a while now, and likely didn’t hit that bar Saturday night against a far hungrier Calgary club.

“We just got outworked from the start. It just seemed like they were ready and we, for whatever reason, weren’t quite ready,” Draisaitl said.

Surely the Oilers aren’t heading back to the way they played for the first month of the season, are they? They can control this lull better than they did that one, can’t they?

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“I think we can. But talk is talk — we have to go out and show it,” Draisaitl said. “We’ve got to get back to the basics. Get back to what makes us a dangerous group. It has obviously not been a great stretch for us, so we need to get back to basics and back to work.”

Look, we get it.

It’s a long year and there are ebbs and flows. There has been little or no criticism of a team that took a 4-4-1 post All-Star break record into this game, because they’d earned some down time.

But how long do those good graces extend? How many average games before you become an average team?

“Along an 82-game season you have to face different types of adversities,” Hyman said, refencing the 2-9-1 start, followed later by a 16-game winning binge. “Everybody’s used to us just winning. So we’re in a stretch where it’s win-a game-lose-a-game. We’ve lost three games in a row here, which isn’t great.

“But (there’s) no panic. I think there’s a strong sense of confidence in this group.”

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Connor McDavid is the greatest player in the world, and the days of finding areas of his game to be critiqued have all but passed.

But how long do we watch last season’s 64-goal scorer pass off from prime shooting position before somebody says something? Because he appears hell bent on turning down Grade A’s in favour of hope passes to players in lesser scoring positions.

McDavid has gone nine very productive games now without a goal. Knoblauch was asked about that very thing after the game, and his response was less than assertive.

He’s still not at the point to publicly question the game’s best player, nor would any first-year NHL head coach.

“I can’t put my finger on it. I’m not sure why,” Knoblauch said of McDavid’s goal drought.

How long do we watch Connor Brown skate around accomplishing nothing — because he’s not helping the penalty kill much these days — before we wonder what he’s doing here?

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When does Dylan Holloway arrive? Or Ryan McLeod, as a consistent performer, for that matter?

Are these two hectic young forwards the kind of depth players you can win a Cup with? Or do they simply skate fast and accomplish little, a couple of kids who look ripe to be dominated by veteran depth players when the game takes a turn towards playoff hockey?

And what about Stuart Skinner? The goalie whose stats were top three in the NHL for the past three months admitted after Saturday’s roasting, “My goals against (average) the last two games feels like 100.” 

Skinner was able, however, to look down on his team from 30,000 feet. He knows what it was like to play behind the team that locked it down defensively for most of three months, and what it’s like now.

The reality is, the goalie who can win consistently behind the team we’ve watched since the All-Star break doesn’t exist. And when the Oilers were playing well enough to be taken as a serious contender, Skinner gave them plenty of goaltending.

“This could be the best thing for our group heading down the stretch,” he said. “Just learning how to not have the kind of stretch we’re having now, where we’re not doing our thing, and that starts with me.”

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