Before the start of this game, I arrogantly told my friend that I don't remember what it feels like to lose anymore. I remember now. It feels terrible.
Sometimes, games are really unfair. On a night the Oilers actually outshot the opponents 37-22, the end result was still a 0-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, snapping a precarious five-game winning streak that had the fanbase feeling simultaneously elated and uneasy. This loss shouldn't hurt as much because the Oilers were definitely the better team tonight, who happened to run into an outstanding goaltending performance by Craig Anderson, but it somehow hurts more than those losses last season. Maybe it's because I'm not numb to losses like before. Maybe it's because for the first time, we actually have something to lose, a great record and winning streak on the line.
This game felt like being stuck in traffic and ending up late for an important appointment when you made sure to leave early. It felt like studying really hard for an exam, only for the professor to test you on something never mentioned in class. It was a stifling, suffocating loss, the kind throughout which I screamed out loud to no one in particular, "JUST ONE GOAL, PLEASE."
Ultimately, though, if the winning streak had to snap at some point, this was probably the best way to do so-- in a way that the Oilers actually outplayed their opponent in most aspects, in a way that proved the past few wins were not merely a fluke, in a way that resulted in an incredible shutout for Craig Anderson in his first game back since a leave of absence to be with his wife, who had just been diagnosed with cancer. He was named the first star of the game and this moment will definitely make your eyes very sweaty.
This loss is fortunately different from the one to Buffalo-- here's hoping the team continues the good parts from this game, polishes up the rough spots, and regroups for a good practice tomorrow before the Matthews vs. McDavid matchup in Toronto on Tuesday.
The first period was significant because it was insignificant despite a plethora of opportunities to make it otherwise. Gifted with three powerplay opportunities, one late in the period off a really pretty move by Connor McDavid that made Brassard look rather pathetic, the Oilers failed to convert on any of their chances. A combination of errant passes and indecisive zone entries made it difficult to generate any sustained pressure, and the Oilers failed to capitalize on an opportunity to take an early lead in what would turn out to be a very close, low-scoring game. I hope Jay Woodcroft goes back to the drawing board, destroys it, and creates something actually legitimate because the failure to capitalize on any of the powerplays this game was a big reason the Oilers lost tonight.
A beautiful move by McDavid in the opening minutes would prove to be a rare spark in a period that was overall stifling for both teams-- the Sens still had yet to post a shot ten minutes into the game, and the somewhat lethargic period finished 7-4 in favour of the Oilers in shots . Talbot continued to be solid, with a beautiful glove save 11 minutes in to keep the game scoreless, and Patrick Maroon showed the world his body is in fact composed of titanium when he remained on the ice after taking a painful-looking Oscar Klefbom shot off the inside of his foot during the Oilers' third powerplay.
For all those uneasy about the precarious five-game win streak on the line, the second period likely did nothing to quell those qualms. This period was so unsatisfying to watch and I accumulated a massive amount of internal rage-- the puck stubbornly refused to go into the Senators net, and despite a number of good chances, Craig Anderson was there to make a number of great stops on the pressuring Oilers, including a great one on Jordan Eberle off a nifty McDavid cross-ice pass, and then freezing Milan Lucic on the same shift.
The Senators clearly got a good talking to during the first intermission, as they came out blazing in the first five minutes, outshooting the Oilers 4-1. The Oilers, roused from their brief nap, picked up the pace significantly after that, shifting the speed of the game with some great end-to-end action and coming back to outshoot the Senators 16-10 at the nine minute mark.
It only takes one bad shift for everything to unravel, though, and a turnover by Larsson coming out of the zone led to the first goal of the game, as Mike "Rocket Richard" Hoffman scored at 12:18 into the second to give the Sens a 1-0 lead. Hoffman continued to get shot after shot on net after that first goal, as the mere mention of his name was enough to give me unpleasant sensations, but luckily Talbot bailed his team out repeatedly to keep the game at a one-goal deficit when it could have easily been much worse.
Of note was how little Connor McDavid factored into this period, as the Senators manhandled my son repeatedly and kept him from being the dynamic force we're used to seeing him be. I use the word manhandled because there were a few instances when a penalty probably could have been called, like when Erik Karlsson had his hands all over him along the boards and nearly mangled him towards the end of the period, but the poor kid continued to take abuse throughout the rest of the game without any calls from the referees. I cry for my son.
I want to believe. I turned my optimism dial all the way up, even beyond Oilers level, but seeing how Anderson was playing on a higher level, a little part of me had a feeling there would be no goals scored by the Oilers tonight. And they certainly fought hard-- this period was absolutely dominated by the Oilers, outshooting the Senators 18-7, but rush after rush, shot after shot, Anderson was there to suck up the puck like a black hole, with nary a rebound given up.
McLellan did his best to spark the team, juggling the lines and replacing Lucic with Draisaitl on the line with McDavid and Eberle, but the zero would not budge. The Senators continued to tie up Connor McDavid successfully, despite a couple of good shifts from the top line this period, and time ticked away as the we saw hope slowly evaporate, the final blow coming as Bobby Ryan put away the empty net goal with 33 seconds left in the game. Ugh.
- Despite the loss, it was awesome to see Craig Anderson have an amazing game. Best wishes to him and his wife Nicholle on their fight with cancer-- the whole hockey community is with you.
- It's easy to overlook, but this game featured another solid performance from Cam Talbot, who has only given up three goals in his last five games. There were a number of heartstopping moments after the Senators took a 1-0 lead, but Talbot was consistently and stable the entire night to keep his team in the game.
- Kris Russell continues his steady play with a number of steady little plays-- in particular, he exhibits great poise with the puck under pressure, making the necessary plays with patience to ensure there are no hasty passes or risky zone exits.
- Patrick Maroon was noticeable on the ice all night long, making a couple of great passes and a number of solid hits to add a much-needed physical presence to the game. It's lovely to see #19 come in with a smirk on his face when a teammate gets hit hard-- he finished the game with 5 hits, a team-high 76.19 CF% (despite a 14.29 Zone Start%), and two shots on goal.
- The penalty kill is still stellar- now third in the league at 89.7%, the penalty killers, in particular Mark Letestu, did a great job at dismantling plays, with Sekera even carrying the puck the other way a few times and setting up for a brief cycle and shot in the third period.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has yet to register a goal this season, but he continues to do many things right, finishing with a team-high five shots on goal tonight and was a sparkling 69% in the faceoff circle, continuing his great work there of late. Nugey is due.
- The Ottawa Senators were all over Connor McDavid tonight, particularly towards the latter half of the game. He still generated a number of opportunities and drew a penalty, but was held off the scoresheet with just two shots. As great as McDavid is, he will continue to be targeted night after night, and needs to find a way to consistently fight this off and turn on Jet Pack Connor as he did earlier in the season.
- Jordan Eberle looked really lost tonight-- he made a really bad puck clearing attempt early in the third period, and as the game got more intense, Eberle seemed to play more half-heartedly, continually missing passes and failing to get the puck out of his own zone cleanly. *goes and finds World Junior Youtube videos of Eberle to rekindle my positive feelings towards him*
- I started twitching nervously whenever Eric Gryba had the puck on his stick in the third period. His lack of speed is being exposed more often, with Talbot even coming out of his net to play a puck he knew Gryba was not going to catch up to before the Sens player. My eyes were shooting lasers at him as plays seemed to repeatedly die on his stick in the third, with small defensive lapses here and there becoming increasingly the norm.
- The powerplay was extremely lame, going 0/4 tonight on a night it would have made a monumental difference. I don't even get excited when we go on the powerplay anymore-- the third powerplay in the first period began with a rush by the Sens going the other way.
Game in a Haiku
Yup, losing still sucks.
I have not forgotten you,
Darkness, my old friend.