For once, I wish the Edmonton Oilers would just be a little less predictable. In tonight's 3-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Oilers did everything most expected of them-- they lost the game to a very good team, Sam Gagner got two points, and they looked lethargic in every period but the first with a rather uninspired effort before their first three-day break of the season.
It was a scary game for the staunchest Oilers Optimists to witness. It's been a rough stretch of games recently, but there were enough positives all season to keep the cynicism at bay-- the good play of Cam Talbot, the wizardry of Connor McDavid, an increased tenacity to the team, and the emergence of Matt Benning, just to name a few. Tonight, Cam Talbot gave up a pair of shaky-looking goals, McDavid was quiet for the third night in a row, the team started high and ended invisible, and Matt Benning was caught for the winning goal. Those like myself who reach for the sanguine point of view night after night will find deflections and other things to feel good about, of course, but this match against a team on a hot streak was rather disheartening in the stark contrast displayed in the third period. Unfortunately, fans may end up also needing the long break to recover their hope after witnessing the end to tonight's game. SAD!!
The first period was sandwiched by a pair of questionable high-sticking calls with a nice goal by Tyler Pitlick in the middle. Right off the bat, Patrick Maroon was called for high sticking on Jack Johnson just ten seconds into the game, though Johnson's retaliatory slash went uncalled for some reason, perhaps a case of the referees mistaking him briefly for a gentle Hawaiian singer-songwriter. Up against the league's number one power play, the Oilers held their own and limited the Blue Jackets to just one shot.
With the exception of a dominant shift against the Oilers' first line, the home team really turned it around after a shaky first few minutes, and it was the secondary scoring kicking into action against as Tyler Pitlick came off the bench and hustled to the net, tapping home the rebound off a Mark Letestu shot attempt up close to put the Oilers up 1-0 at 10:06 in the first with his seventh of the year. That signature aggressiveness and hustle has helped Pitlick get off to a great start this season as he establishes himself as a lineup regular-- sign me up for the Pitty party. Mark Letestu also proved his utility extends beyond Jets games, as well, getting his seventh assist of the year on that goal.
A few little bursts of karma closed out the period, as a long Adam Larsson went off Seth Jones and into the net, but Zack Kassian, the new Cursed One, was deemed to be in the crease and the goal was promptly waved off. Seeing him raise his arms in celebration, then immediately down in instant dejection, seemed reminiscent of the previous game, and boy are his emotions being toyed with by the hockey gods right now. The period closed with Milan Lucic accidentally attacking the face of his son Connor McDavid with his stick, but the referees this time zeroed in on Jack Johnson, who was in the same corner as the two Oilers on the play, and he got a four minute major high sticking call with ten seconds left in the period. Milan stayed silent, Connor bled, Torts yelled and remonstrated, and the Oilers got a four minute power play to open the second period.
Overall, it was a much more energized Oilers team on the ice against a very good Blue Jackets team, outshooting them 8-2 twelve minutes into the period and 11-5 in the period. Of note, there was much better puck movement, particularly from the Benning and Davidson pairing, and it was a nice return to the ice for Davidson, with 4:39 of ice time.
Cue the slow death.
It's been a while since the opposing team's goalie has frustrated me with his outstanding play, the most vivid example being Anderson's clinic during the loss to the Senators. BOBROVSKY!! has been playing out of his mind this season, and it showed tonight as he robbed the Oilers on a litany of shots during their extended power play. The Oilers were still outshooting the Blue Jackets 19-7 at the six minute mark of the third, but of course, of course, because some things just never change, as everybody expected, Sam Gagner scored on the Blue Jackets power play off a tripping call against Leon Draisaitl, as an Alex Wennberg shot deflected off the former Oiler's skate for his team-leading twelfth of the season at 7:59 in the second. The difference between Oilers and other team is that when Oilers fans make self-deprecating predictions like "of course Sam Gagner is going to score tonight," they are not even joking.
The Nugent-Hopkins line had a great response shift after the Gagner goal, and Connor McDavid's line, now featuring Tyler Pitlick on his right wing as that position has become like the rotating featured artist role on a Timbaland song, had a great chance with McDavid and Pitlick driving the net with no regard for obstacles or tomorrow.
The Blue Jackets really stepped up their play in the second period, and threatened multiple times in the latter half of the period as the momentum shifted back and forth-- you can really see the difference between the Blue Jackets' play and the fatigued Jets', as they looked consistently more dangerous, forcing turnover after turnover from the Oilers. The Blue Jackets had ten high danger shot attempts to the Oilers' six in the second, and closed the gap in shots to 26-17 for the Oilers while taking the lead in overall shot attempts 36-34. One got the feeling goals would be rather hard to come by and the Oilers would really need to get the next one if they wanted to steal some points here.
This period was just offensive to my eyesight, tastebuds, nostrils, tactile senses, everything. To sum it up, the Oilers were outshot 12-0 at the halfway point of the period, and you know that saying about missing 100% of the shots you don't take? The Oilers did just that, and the Blue Jackets went super saiyan, starting with Cam Atkinson's power play goal at 7:10 to take the lead at 2-1. Of course, of course Sam Gagner got an assist on that goal for his second point of the game. Just punch me in the face.
Just over a minute and a half later, Matt Calvert grabbed the loose puck after Matt Benning failed to clear it and shot it shortside over a tired-looking Cam Talbot to put the Blue Jackets up 3-1 at 8:46. My inner Oilers Optimist was dying a slow, withering death, and for the first time I didn't believe at all that the Oilers could come back in this game. From the moment the Blue Jackets tied the game, it was apparent that if the Oilers didn't get the next goal, it would be nearly impossible to come back against such a confident, energetic team. Whatever third period voodoo conditioning John Tortorella is having his team do, it's clearly working, and I'm sure Uncle Todd would like to do the same if the team actually got to practice.
The Oilers did get a couple of chances later on, but it was just one of those nights when nothing was going in. The Blue Jackets are a great defensive team, Bob is Bob, and Pitlick even missed an empty net off a rebound, putting it off the post in a moment that represented this game so well and coloured my soul in multiple shades of emo. I was very happy when this game ended because this third period was worse than Glitter, starring Mariah Carey, and that is saying something.
Confoundingly, the Oilers outshot the Blue Jackets 34-31, and even the CF was relatively even at 55-54 for the Oilers, the Blue Jackets edging the Oilers slightly in High Danger CF at 17-16. It was the power play that made the difference, the Blue Jackets going 2/5 while the Oilers were blanked 0/4. One could argue that Cam Talbot should have had those two goals in the third period, but the entire effort by the team in that period was just unacceptable and very ugly to watch.
- I really liked the first period, and it gave me hope for this team and the world in general.
- The Oilers were a much better faceoff team tonight, going 64% on the night. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was 73%, improving by leaps and bounds each game and his willingness to work on what had been an area of weakness a very promising sign. Connor McDavid, despite having a quiet night, was an insane 89% in the faceoff circle.
- Somehow, Mark Letestu finished with a team high 68.42% CF and tied for the team high with five shots on net despite pretty even zone starts. He's been a really nice story emerging these past couple of games.
- It seems that Kris Russell hardly gets beat in one-on-one battles, winning another one in front of the net in the first period to stave off a shot opportunity. He finished with a team high seven blocks, almost half of the team's 16 on the night, which did a lot to limit the shot count for the Blue Jackets despite them firing a lot of pucks toward the net.
- We are not the Canucks.
- The schedule has increasingly become a topic of discussion, particularly amongst the coaches. Wary of using it as an excuse yet the disparity of it being extreme enough to warrant a good discussion about it, we saw tonight that the Blue Jackets were definitely the better rested team tonight, having played only 26 games to the Oilers' 31 before tonight-- that is more than a tangible difference. It's not the reason the Blue Jackets were a better team tonight, but the Oilers clearly ran out of gas there in the third and this is a glaring contributor to the fatigue. The team gets its first three-day rest period this week, and thank McJesus for that.
- The McLellan Blender was in full force tonight, as we saw Pitlick promoted and demoted again within the same game, playing on Connor's line after scoring the first goal of the game, then back down after. I think it's nice to try new things, but it’s pretty clear Pitlick doesn't have the playmaking skills or vision to keep up with Connor-- brute hustle and speed can only do so much. We saw Draisaitl and McDavid reunited at the start of the third, before the blender was restarted to create the flavor of the day with Maroon- Nugent-Hopkins- Draisaitl. I'm not sure all these changes on the fly are super effective, but it must be equally frustrating for McLellan to see none of the lines really clicking. It seems he's still feeling this way through the lineup, and the day the Oilers can have consistent lines throughout a line will reflect the fact that the team will have taken a big step forward at that point.
- I really hated the third period. It made me lose faith in this world and want to punch a pineapple.
Did You Notice?
I loved seeing Lucic jump in and chirp Anderson after he tried to get in Larsson's face. "Watch yourself. Watch yourself. You know what you're doing? Oh yeah?"
Game in a Haiku
I will hibernate
away this piss poor effort
and believe again.
Saturday, December 17 vs Tampa Bay Lightning at 8pm MST.