The blame game was on fire last night, as the Edmonton Oilers lost 4-0 to the division leading Toronto Maple Leafs. Whatever your complaint you’re at least a little right. Mike Smith did not look good, Darnell Nurse was a day late, Tyson Barrie brought chaos and Leon looked tired. The McDavid line was a half bubble off plumb, Gaetan Haas can’t miss that first period chance and play in the top-9. Josh Archibald can’t be in the crease when the goalie needs to move. Kris Russell took a costly penalty. All true.
To me, it was one of the games Casey Stengel talked about 60 years ago. When explaining the pennant race for his NY Yankees, Stengel said there were 50 games you were going to win because of luck or opposition error or your .170 hitting shortstop belting a grand slam. There were also 50 games you were going to lose for similar reasons. Your ace wakes up from his afternoon nap with a stiff neck, Dick Allen won the home-run crown and decided to go home two weeks early, or your closer forgot how to cover first base.
Fifty you were going to lose no matter what, 50 you were going to win no matter.
It’s the other 50 games that decide the pennant. Win 35 of those a year and you’re headed to Cooperstown. The Oilers weren’t going to win the moment Haas missed that chance, the moment Archibald got cresschecked into the net by Thornton and the refs didn’t call it, the moment Smith whiffed on the second goal. Shiza happens.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.
- New Lowetide: Jesse Puljujarvi must be on the Oilers expansion protected list after breakout
- New Jonathan Willis: The Oilers’ 2020 trade deadline splash: What we learned, a year later
- Lowetide: Revisiting our preseason predictions for the Oilers after 20 games
- Lowetide: Oilers begin to separate from prairie teams in Scotia North
- Lowetide: If Dylan Holloway turns pro this spring, will it be with the Oilers?
- Jonathan Willis: Could an Ethan Bear trade improve the Oilers?
- Lowetide: Is Oilers centre Kyle Turris playing himself out of the NHL?
- Lowetide: Tinkering with the Oilers’ top six — what are the best line combinations?
- Lowetide: Philip Broberg and the Oilers’ Leftorium
- Lowetide: Jujhar Khaira, a waiver reset and the Oilers’ future at No. 3 centre
- Lowetide: What to do with the Oilers defence now that the rookies have arrived
- Lowetide: Mike Smith’s return calms the Oilers goalie hysteria — for now
- Lowetide: Bakersfield Condors are back, but true NHL prospects a roster rarity
- Lowetide: Dylan Holloway caps strong NCAA season with Hobey Baker nomination
- Lowetide: Oilers rookie Evan Bouchard’s 2021 NHL debut — a shift-by-shift review
- Lowetide: Edmonton Oilers report card for January
- Lowetide: Some of the Oilers’ Russian prospects less than a year from the NHL
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers need misfiring elements to come together — and fast
- Lowetide: 3 auditioning Oilers who should be given time to find their groove
- Lowetide: Oilers Kailer Yamamoto is the real deal.
- Lowetide: Is this peak Connor McDavid?
OILERS AFTER 23 GAMES
- Oilers in 2015-16: 7-14-2, 16 points; goal differential -13
- Oilers in 2016-17: 12-9-2, 26 points; goal differential +9
- Oilers in 2017-18: 8-13-2, 18 points; goal differential -16
- Oilers in 2018-19: 10-11-2, 22 points; goal differential -12
- Oilers in 2019-20: 14-6-3, 31 points; goal differential +15
- Oilers in 2020-21: 14-9-0, 28 points; goal differential +9
I’d say opportunity missed but the team won five in a row coming in, eight of 10. This loss, to a good Toronto team, tells the Edmonton side there is still work to be done. Nothing wrong with it, and there’s a lot to be proud of when looking at February.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN FEBRUARY
- At home to: Ottawa (Expected: 1-0-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- On the road to: Calgary, Ottawa, Ottawa, Montreal (Expected: 2-1-1) (Actual 3-1-0)
- At home to: Winnipeg, Winnipeg (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 1-1-0)
- On the road to: Calgary (Expected 0-1-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- At home to: Calgary (Expected 1-0-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- On the road to: Vancouver, Vancouver (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 2-0-0)
- At home to: Toronto (Expected 1-0-0) (Actual 0-1-0)
- Overall expected result: 7-4-1, 15 points in 12 games
- Current results: 9-3-0, 18 points in 12 games
If the Oilers make the playoffs in 2020-21, February will be a big reason. Put another way: Edmonton plays 16 games in March; don’t be surprised if they win the same number (or near) of points next month in more games.
LINES LAST NIGHT
- Nuge-McDavid-Puljujarvi played 12:48. 8-8 shots, 0-1 goals, 3-1 HDSC and 16-11 Corsi five on five. This line had great chances (JP had 4 HDSC, Nuge 1) but couldn’t score. What’s more, passes were glancing off something all night and sending the puck the other way. The GA sequence saw McDavid hammer the puck left side Toronto zone, puck glanced to the far left boards where Morgan Rielly sent it down the ice to Joe Thornton, who made a nice pass to John Tavares. Over to Marner on another great pass, Marner gets a good angle and Nurse backs in and doesn’t challenge, Smith whiffed on the play.
- P. Russell-Haas-Chiasson played 10:33, going 6-3 shots, no goals, 2-1 HDSC and 13-3 Corsi five on five. Haas had an incredible chance in the slot early, then Chiasson got the puck to him in the second period at the side of the net and yet another moment when the puck skipped past. I yelled at Haas, but he couldn’t hear. Maybe it’s the language barrier. Patrick Russell moved the puck along the wall but didn’t move the needle offensively. Chiasson had some almost moments but the puck bounced on him.
- Kahun-Draisaitl-Yamamoto played 10:03, 5-2 shots, no HDSC and 9-2 Corsi. It was a quiet night for the group, Yamamoto had a great chance but it came on a pass from McDavid. Draisaitl is either tired or injured and may require some rest. He lost a month’s worth of battles last night.
- Ennis-Khaira-Archibald played 9:39, going 6-6 shots, 4-3 HDSC and 11-8 Corsi five on five. Archibald had three outstanding chances, I would have yelled at him but I wasn’t done yelling at Haas. He was most noticeable when getting in Smith’s way in the crease on the first GA. I don’t think that’s textbook penalty killing even with the crosscheck by Thornton. Khaira had a look, Ennis was engaged and physical and pissed off Holl something fierce.
DEFENSE AND GOALIE, LAST NIGHT
- Nurse-Barrie played 24:25, going 14-13 shots, 0-2 goals, 5-1 HDSC and 29-18 Corsi five on five. Nurse got caught on the first goal fishing for the puck and allowing Marner to walk him. Nurse was either trying to block or stick check Marner on the second goal, but had given up too much real estate. Nurse lost a battle with Hyman on the last goal coming out from the wall on the left side. His poorest night of the year. Barrie had plenty of chaos beginning with the first shift, I’m hopeful we see Ethan Bear with Nurse Monday night, although that was the pairing on the Hyman goal.
- Russell-Larsson played 11:49, going 5-6 shots, no goals, 1-2 HDSC and 11-7 Corsi five on five. Russell took the penalty, it was a pretty weak call to my eye, but the rage by fans over it is about what you might expect. Larsson was the best defenseman for Edmonton on the night, playing a borderline murderous 16:27 and making people pay.
- Jones-Bear played 10:04, going 2-4 shots, no goals, 4-1 HDSC and 6-1 Corsi five on five. The pairing had good things going but didn’t play enough. Jones was especially active, with three shots on net and pushing play several times. Bear defended well enough but his passing wasn’t at the usual level, and one late third period passing mistake turned into a great Toronto chance.
- Mike Smith had a tough night, stopping 25 of 29, .862. He stopped all six HDSC but missed on several shots he could have stopped. Tough to be outraged based on how well he played during the rest of the month, and he also did the team the courtesy of playing so poorly the coach is likely to run Koskinen out there on Monday.
I think this game could benefit the Oilers organization in a big way. Coach Dave Tippett will likely change goalies, may move Bear up with Nurse, place Jones with Larsson and bring Russell out of the lineup to run Lagesson/Bouchard-Bear on the third pair.
Maybe we see a tweak on the skill lines, too.
One thing I know for certain: Edmonton is not the best team in this division.
Final note: Hall is on the cover to remind how fleeting hopes for a generation of players can be. Vital for the organization to have some success (playoffs) this season. Monday is a big game.