Let the terrible vocals of Pierre Bouvier wash away your tears after this absolute rollercoaster of emotions. Tonight, the Edmonton Oilers made you feel disgusted, proud, elated, nervous, and really depressed again, all within the course of one hockey game-- it's quite remarkable, really. The Oilers’ 3-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres had everything in it-- a terrible start, a riveting comeback, a last minute lapse, and a dash of extreme heartbreak in overtime. In a game where in the first period it seemed the Oilers had no chance of winning, but in the third period seemed to have it wrapped up in the final minute, the team dropped a point they fought very hard for, in the process wasting standout performances from Drake Caggiula, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl.
The ending to this game is like when you're watching a horror movie that starts out brutally and leaves you terrified for most of it, until towards the end when it seems to be winding down and you exhale as you think everyone will get a happy ending. But no, all of a sudden there is a twist and everyone is murdered in a really brutal way. That is what this game felt like. So proceed with mental preparation as we recap the night.
I had managed to wipe the dirty, nasty memories from that game against Buffalo earlier in the season from my memory, so much so that I had even forgotten the score (I thought it was 5-0, it was actually 6-2). This period crammed all those terrible emotions back down my throat, and I had a distinct desire to throw up.
It started off rather uninspired, with not many shots getting on net in the first few minutes and McDavid getting a few sniffs near the net. It doesn't take much, though, for things to go from "this is uninspired" to "please, I want the uninspired scoreless game back." A very questionable hooking call on Zack Kassian, who looked like he was lifting his own stick, led to a power play goal from the Sabres when Evander Kane's rather weak-looking shot managed to squirt through Cam Talbot at 10:38 to put the Sabres up 1-0. It was hard to recognize Kane without his tracksuit, and perhaps that was what Talbot was dealing because this seems like a shot he should have had.
The Oilers responded to that goal with some sloppier passing, poorer zone exits and just general badness. Nothing was clicking at all, and I went to go make myself some Ovaltine to cheer up my extremely depressed soul. Mug of Ovaltine in hand, I almost spilled it when out of nowhere, Nick Foligno made a pass to Brian Gionta from the wing and it was suddenly 2-0 for the Sabres as Gionta got his sixth of the season at 13:46. The three forwards on the top line watched from center ice as Foligno and Gionta played hockey, and Lucic in particular did not move his feet at all on the backcheck, taking a disinterested swipe at Gionta with his stick but not much else while Mark Fayne couldn't decide what to do.
Sigh. Matt Hendricks, immediately after the second Sabres goal, tried to drop his gloves and spark his team a little, but Justin Falk just kind of muttered things to Hendricks while not dropping his gloves. It was rather awkward. With around five minutes left in the period, the Oilers were being outshot 10-2 and I felt sorry for Anders Nilsson because he must have been so bored. I haven't been superstitious in so long but I changed a few things at this point in hope it would help get the Oilers going, adjusting my sitting position and braiding my hair. It seemed to work somewhat, as Eberle's line started to show a bit more promise and even got (gasp!) a shot on net! The Oilers managed to iron out some of the embarrassment from the period, bringing the shot count to 10-5 at the end of the first, but were probably given a well-deserved stern talking to by Coach Todd in the dressing room.
I think we all knew deep in our hearts that Connor McDavid is just a cruel Canadian gangster, and he showed this when his light touch sent a Sabre crashing into the boards, which put Connor in the box for interference. If you did not know it before, we now have proof that McDavid's strength is all-powerful. I splayed out on the floor at this point to reverse the mojo, and it seemed to work, as the Oilers had a beautiful penalty kill to prevent this one from slipping away.
It was at this point that Emperor Caligula decided to rise. Playing in front of 58+ family and friends from southern Ontario, Drake Caggiula was elevated to play on a line with McDavid and Lucic after the first period, and the Emperor's first move was to draw an interference call for the Oilers' first power play of the game. On the ensuing power play, Eberle's pass bounced around in front of the net with a ton of traffic, and he subsequently tapped in the rebound off of Caggiula's shot for his eighth of the season. It was extremely ugly and greasy, but Eberle's power play goal at 10:31, assisted by Caggiula and Nugent-Hopkins, put them back in the game at 2-1. I was so sad, and then I was so happy.
Caggiula decided that this was not enough if he wanted to become the superior Drake to emerge from Toronto, and proceeded to initiate a great rush with his new linemates. With Caggiula driving towards the net after passing the puck to McDavid, Lucic beat Nilsson with a shot off McDavid's feed for his eighth goal of the season at 12:15 to tie the game at 2-2. Caggiula picked up his second assist of the game while Connor broke his lengthy point drought of two whole games.
Whatever Todd McLellan said to the boys during the intermission definitely worked, because they came out like a team possessed, outshooting the Sabres 14-5. The McDrizzy combo was also clicking like crazy, though this came at the separation of my favourite new power couple of Connor+Leon. Also worth noting that Mark Fayne exited the game with an injury this period (Davey come back!), favouring his left leg, so the Oilers played half this match with only five defensemen.
After clawing their way back from a 0-2 deficit to tie the game at 2-2, the Oilers capped their comeback with another power play goal at 9:59 from Leon Draisaitl, who deflected Connor McDavid's shot-pass beautifully for his 11th of the season, tying McDavid for the team lead and fighting hard with new rival Caggiula for McDavid's heart. Even more remarkably, Draisaitl scored that goal after taking a nasty slash to his hand on the same shift, but Draisaitl's hand, the proud product of German engineering, held up to put the Oilers up 3-2.
The Oilers started this period rather lethargically, but really picked it up after their first power play around four minutes in, outshooting the Sabres 18-9 in the third. I started to luxuriate in my happy vibes and was positively drowning in the endorphins precipitated by what looked to be a sure come-from-behind win. I learned today that as an Oilers fan, I should never let my guard down with such arrogance and such lack of regard for reality will always be punished.
With about a minute left, the Sabres had their goalie pulled and did not have a timeout, having used it for an unsuccessful goalie interference challenge on Eberle's first goal. For some reason, McLellan decided this would be a good time to use his timeout, instead, giving the Dan Bylsma a great chance to plan their 6-on-5 attack. I have no idea why he did that, and still cannot figure it out.
**TRIGGER WARNING: If you are a fan of happy endings, or are a sensitive fan who loses sleep over the Oilers goofing up in the most unnecessary ways, stop reading now.**
The Sabres' attack worked. Of course it did. Tracksuit Kane scored with 29 seconds left in the game, tapping in the rebound off the initial Ryan O'Reilly shot, to tie it at 3-3.
It gets worse. Adam Larsson then took a (rather soft, but still) holding penalty with 18 seconds left to put the two points even further beyond the reach of his team.
It gets worse. Rasmus Ristolainen scored with a point shot 57 seconds into overtime and the Sabres win the game 4-3. Within a span of three minutes, my world went from colorful to pitch black, my mood from buoyant to depressed, my hands from typing with joy to bleeding with pain. I don't even want to dwell too much on it, because despite the Oilers doing some great things, including dominating play for much of the second and third period (outshooting the Sabres 32-14 in that span) and coming back to put themselves back into a game they were clearly out of in the first period, losing in a sudden, last minute collapse like that just leaves a terrible taste in your mouth.
This is one of those games you prefer not to think about, when you take out your handy dandy Oilers Memory Eraser™ and sleep it off. Ultimately, many will point to the strange decision by Todd McLellan to gift the Sabres with a timeout when the Oilers were dominating in the last minutes, or Larsson's (questionable) penalty with a few seconds remaining in regulation, but despite how great it was that the Oilers were able to come back from a 0-2 deficit, there's still the fact that they put themselves in that hole by not bothering to show up for the first twenty minutes.
"We're going to look at the end and obviously that's disappointing," said McLellan after the game, "but we were very sluggish and slow, behind the eight ball, so the first two goals bother me more than the last two." As I've pointed out in the past, this year's team is frustrating because they can play very well and dominate, as they did for most of the second and third periods, but will have these random lapses in concentration and look extremely slow and unfocused, like in the first period. The need for more consistency is something this young team really has to work on, as it was their undoing in this game and I'm sure McLellan will be addressing this with the team in their next practice. If they can use this Sabres game as another learning opportunity, as they did with their first match this season, then perhaps the point they lost tonight will have been worth it. Perhaps.
- Drake Caggiula had a breakout game-- after being promoted to the McDavid line, the chemistry was evident and he drew the penalty that led to the first goal (on which he had an assist), assisted on the tying goal, and also drew the penalty that led to the third goal. I'm not sure whether Coach McLellan will keep him on the same line (McDrizzy>LeoCon?), but part of me wishes his royal retinue of 58 will keep following him around to games if this is the result. Finished with two assists and a superb 70.97% CF%.
- Connor McDavid once again willed his team back into this one. He was the only one who showed really good jump throughout the entire game, his speed shocking me once again, even after I've been shocked senseless hundreds of times already. His ability to enter the zone based on his speed alone is just so terrifying and satisfying; finished the night with two assists (for a league-leading 36 points on the season) and a 66.67% CF%.
- The Maroon - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle line (MEN line?) was much better tonight after swapping Pouliot for Maroon, giving the team a much-needed jolt towards the end of the first period and consistently dangerous. It seemed whenever they were on the ice, they were in the Sabres' zone attacking and it showed-- the line combined for 9 shots, and all three had CF% of above 70%, in large contrast to the game against Minnesota when the entire line finished sub-50%.
- Matt Benning continues his out-of-nowhere breakout season, finishing with four hits, three shots on net and looked very steady throughout, in contrast to some of the more seasoned players. Let's take a moment to really appreciate how lucky we are that Benning has emerged this season with injuries to Fayne, Nurse, and Davidson.
- I'm not complaining about the refereeing as an excuse for why the Oilers lost this game, but I felt that a lot of the calls were questionable. The first hooking call against Kassian seemed like he was just trying to lift his own stick, the interference call against McDavid seemed severe given how lightly he actually touched Jake McCabe (who nearly killed him at center ice earlier), the interference call on Nugey also seemed way too severe for a light touch, and as for the most crucial last penalty on Larsson, I've seen Connor McDavid manhandled in ways so much worse than that with nothing called. McLellan also crucified Larsson in the post-game comments for this penalty, obviously not mentioning his own decision to take a time out. This is not to mention the fact that the slash on Draisaitl's and obvious high stick to Benning's face all went uncalled.
- That first period was just one of the ugliest periods of hockey I've seen the Oilers play. If I were to find something to represent it, it would be this disfigured rotting banana. Nothing was connecting, there was no sense of urgency, and they had two periods to correct this but putting yourself in a whole as the well-rested team against a team coming off a game the night before is just not good.
Game in a Haiku
Leon and Drizzy,
Fighting hard for Connor's heart
and the Final Rose.
UP NEXT: @Philadelphia, 5pm MST