Even the most optimistic of Oilers fans, anticipating a delightful end to the Columbus Blue Jackets' 15 game win streak, would have hastily extinguished most hope of a victory upon witnessing just the first few minutes of tonight's 3-1 loss to Columbus.
The whole night, it felt like the Oilers were trying to break bulletproof glass not even with the firepower of a real gun, but the pathetic squirt of a flimsy dollar store watergun. The 3-1 score doesn't reflect the remarkably lopsided nature of this game, as the Oilers became the latest in a lineup of helpless victims falling at the hands of the Columbus, who increased their lead atop the NHL at an astounding 27-5-4 record.
It was easy to see from tonight's game precisely why the Blue Jackets have now won an incredible 16 straight games--effortless zone entries and relentless pressure in the opponents' zone led to penalties taken out of desperation or fatigue, which they promptly capitalized on with a lethal power play that consolidates the best qualities of their game- control, precision, and confidence.
"They play the right way and everything is in sync- that's when you tend to go on winning streaks like this," said Milan Lucic after the game. "You can see everything is flowing in the right direction for them, and it's easy to just say that they're getting bounces, but they're working hard for those bounces and they're making it happen."
Coach McLellan didn't mince words about tonight's showing.
"We didn't even come close to their pace or their tenacity, their relentlessness, we weren't anywhere near it," he said after the game. "We're not capable of getting there. It was a great test for us; for me that's a playoff-type environment, and we had some go-to people that were invisible, so we've got to get them up and running. They've got to understand that as we get further in, and we get to where we want to go eventually, it's going to be a lot harder than that, and you gotta show up.”
For Oilers fans, this was a difficult game to watch in a year when they were just beginning to believe the team had entered a higher echelon-- Edmonton was simply overmatched in every aspect of the game, the visiting team seemingly out of contention since the Blue Jackets started executing their relentless, suffocating game plan from the moment the puck dropped.
The majority of the game saw the play unfold in the Oilers zone, as the team was outshot 35-22 on the night, and trailed in shots 25-12 at the end of the second period.
Cam Atkinson opened the scoring at 12:32 on the power play when his cross-ice pass first went off Kris Russell's stick, then Andrej Sekera's skate and into the net for his 18th of the season. Despite the fact that Coach McLellan had stressed the importance of not giving Columbus any power play opportunities, the Oilers continued to take penalties throughout the night, giving the Blue Jackets' league-leading power play four chances, two of which they capitalized on.
The first period was entirely dominated by Columbus, as the Blue Jackets applied unrelenting pressure with continued possession, outshooting the Oilers 12-4 and limiting them to zero high danger shot attempts. In fact, none of the Oilers had a CF% above 50% at the end of the first period, with the play almost completely in the Oilers zone, the team's victories coming in the form of simply being able to clear the puck to get a change in. All of Edmonton's shots came off the rush, with no real establishment of any cycle in the Columbus zone, and it was a small miracle that they managed to escape the period only down by one goal. It was as if the team had their head held down in water for most of the period, coming up for breath desperately every few minutes and absolutely relieved to escape.
The second period featured a better showing from the Oilers, as Oscar Klefbom joined the rush down the middle and tapped in the pass from Patrick Maroon to tie the game at 5:39 with his sixth goal of the season. Jordan Eberle, whose goal-scoring curse is still in effect, picked up his 18th assist of the season on the Klefbom goal.
The momentum shifted to the Oilers briefly and with the score at 1-1, it seemed for a moment that the impossible seemed within reach, until a holding call against Brandon Davidson gave Columbus their second power play. With mechanical precision, the Blue Jackets reclaimed the lead as William Karlsson's point shot beat Cam Talbot at 10:43 in the second period.
The Oilers had an opportunity to reverse the momentum once again with their own power play opportunity with 6:16 left in the period, but once again penalty trouble snuffed out any chance of that, as a (questionable) tripping call on Connor McDavid negated the power play and the Oilers quickly reverted to dump and change survival mode hockey.
An egregious giveaway by Benoit Pouliot that facilitated the production of exasperated tears from my eyes gifted Nick Foligno with a point blank wrist shot that made it 3-1 just 2:45 into the third. The rest of the period featured the Oilers pounding at a door that had been locked shut already, as being down by two goals against the Blue Jackets in the third period is really not where a team wants to find themselves, and despite battling hard enough to produce at least an even shot count in the final period at 10-10, the comeback no one expected did not happen. The end of the game was the merciful conclusion to a dragged out death that could not have ended sooner, as we will now look forward to the next game on Thursday against Boston, when the team can face actual humans and not robots.
- Cam Talbot was completely exposed but kept this from being more embarrassing than it already was, doing all he could to keep his team in the game, including an excellent sliding save with his right leg five minutes into the third to keep it 3-1.
- Oscar Klefbom scored a goal. This will be the only part of this game I do not eviscerate from my memory immediately tonight.
- The Oilers do not have to face the Columbus Blue Jackets again this season. Thank God.
- Mostly everything.
- I can't believe I am saying this, and please do not exorcise me for doing so, but I would like to very gently point out, and I'm just saying, that Connor McDavid has been quieter lately, especially on the goal-scoring front, with three goals in his last fifteen games. Just laying this softly out there, even though he is still a deity in my heart and without him we would be nothing.
- This type of game makes it painfully clear that despite the strides the Oilers have made this season, they still have a long way to go before they can match up against the best in the league. At the same time, the Blue Jackets’ startling turnaround in just a season should give this team hope that with the right maturation of key players and time for systems to be implemented properly, exponential improvement can happen in a span of one season.
- There were some giveaways tonight so hideous I would advise replays be avoided to prevent excess optical trauma-- one by Zack Kassian right in front of his own net, another by Matt Hendricks on a terrible pass, again in front of his own net, both times bailed out by the immensely pitiful Cam Talbot, until the fort finally broke with the Pouliot giveaway in the third that led to the nail in the coffin goal by Foligno. I am sorry, Benoit Pouliot, but I highly dislike you tonight.
Game in a Haiku
It was like watching
a dying puppy get kicked
over and over.
Thursday, January 5 @Boston, 5pm MST.