The problem with the Oilers fast start to the season is that it made me want to believe. Before the season started I had the lowest possible expectations for the Oilers. I'd made my peace with another season watching the team get beaten down and run over by the other teams in the league. I didn't like the idea but it was something that I felt I could live with. And yet after 14 games the Oilers were near the top of the Western Conference standings and against my better judgement I started to abandon everything I believed to be true and dreamed of a world where the Oilers are a good hockey team.
I did my best to stay negative, I really did, but the optimism snuck through despite my best efforts. And then Boston happened. Followed by Detroit. And Chicago. I was a little worried but those were all road games against some of the NHL's elite teams, consider them losses with an asterisk. Things would improve at home. Or so I would have thought. Or at least hoped.
There aren't "must win" games in November but there are "would be really nice to win" games and this was one of those with another four game road trip on the horizon that includes stops in Dallas and Minnesota where the Oilers almost never win. That combined with three days off after three lopsided losses and being back in front of the home town crowd should have had the Oilers firing on all cylinders tonight. The Oilers should have played a game tonight that would have left the Senators reeling. Instead the Oilers put together a game that started out well enough and then went off the rails in a hurry. And once it went off it went way off.
Early on things seemed to be going the Oilers way. By Dennis King's scoring chances the Oilers recorded the game first five scoring chances. The Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle line created three and it looked as if their home town magic was back. And then it happened, the Senators got a shot. A single shot was the straw that broke the camel's back on this night. That first shot went in and nine seconds later so did the Senators second shot of the night.
The Oilers were never the same after those first two shots got past Nikolai Khabibulin. Before the period ended the Senators would score another goal, extending their lead to three and chasing Khabibulin from the net for the start of the second period. Khabibulin's line on the evening was three goals allowed, four saves made, and at least one induced flashback of last season (that was me although I suspect Tom Renney likely suffered a similar fate). It wasn't his best performance of the season.
The Oilers would get on the board early in the second period when Anton Lander scored the first of his career; a shorthanded goal barely past the two minute mark. That was a goal that could have provided the spark of a comeback but the Oilers were dead by this point. In the second period they would register just three shots and no scoring chances other than the one resulting in the Lander goal. Not that the Senators played a much better game but against a team that was barely playing the Sens only had to be so good to win on this night.
The Oilers looked a little better in the games final period but with the game long since out of reach - the Senators extended their lead to 5-1 early in the period - that effort would have been better spent a couple of hours earlier. The Oilers would score again in the final minute of the game when an Eric Belanger shot deflected off Zack Smith and Ryan Jones' leg before beating Craig Anderson. The goal wasn't of much consolation to anyone though unless you find a three goal loss slightly more palatable than a four goal loss.
News and Notes:
- Corey Potter left the game in the second period and didn't return. With Andy Sutton lost before the game started with a groin injury the Oilers were left with only four defenseman for almost half of the game. With Cam Barker injured since last Thursday I'm not sure why the Oilers didn't have a player available to replace Sutton.
- Ales Hemsky was invisible tonight. In the first period he had a couple of shifts where he looked dangerous and then disappeared. On a night where nobody looked good Hemsky managed to look especially bad.
- In his last three starts Khabibulin's posted a 0.845 save percentage and a 4.71 goals against average. Anybody think we can still trade him?
- Theo Peckham had a terrible night. He was outchanced at even strength 7-1, posted a -3, and looked to be standing still more often than not. With the depleted Oiler blueline Peckham played over 24 minutes which is far more than he can handle.
- With tonight's loss the Oilers now sit ninth in the Western Conference. Looking at the schedule ahead I wonder how long before they're in a playoff position again.