The Edmonton Oilers (30-20-6) were in Tampa Bay to battle the Lightning (37-15-5) in the first of a three-game sweep of the Southeastern USA. The Oilers were without their captain, the transcendant Connor McDavid, for the second consecutive game. But, it wasn’t so dire for the Oilers after news broke midday about the Lightning’s injury troubles, with key names like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Anthony Cirelli missing out as well. All told it appeared, on paper at least, that Tampa Bay at home was as gettable as they’d ever be for the Oilers.
The Lightning came out of the gate with both vim and vigor, penning the Oilers in their own zone for most of the first few minutes. In fact, if it weren’t for two posts — one via deflection and the other a missed sitter with Mike Smith nowhere close — the Oilers would have been down 0-2 before the first TV timeout.
Thankfully, however, they weren’t. Smith made a couple of good saves to keep the Oilers afloat and the visitors managed to find their sea legs for a little bit, testing Andrei Vasilevskiy a few times themselves and doing a much better job of neutralizing Tampa Bay’s impressive, relentless attack.
But, as they showed to start the game, Tampa is an elite hockey club with or without Stamkos and Kucherov, and they showed that again at the end of the period. They were well-structured and their pressure felt claustrophobic at times, with the Oilers struggling to find time and space to make positive plays in all three zones.
That the Oilers iced a lineup with maybe four guys who could make those plays is another matter entirely, but Tampa was full value in the first period and likely deserved better than heading into intermission level at 0-0.
They tried their level best to get one, too, as the last few minutes of the opening stanza resembled the first, with Edmonton on the back foot and Tampa Bay pressing for a goal.
Mike Smith was resolute between the pipes, however, and the score remained 0-0 after twenty minutes.
A better start from the Oilers in period two saw them draw the game’s first power play through a Cedric Paquette hook on Colby Cave.
Unfortunately, the Oilers PP was stagnant, slow, and too lackadaisical, and the Lightning had about as many good looks as the Oilers did. It was one of those classic momentum-killing advantages, and Tampa Bay wasted no time in taking advantage of it.
Shortly after the kill — just over a minute to be more precise — Tampa was swarming in the Oilers’ zone. The puck eventually made its way to former Oiler Pat Maroon, who banked one in off of Mike Smith from just behind the goal line. 0-1.
Tampa continued to surge after pulling ahead but could not extend their lead before the Oilers would tie it.
Caleb Jones started the rush up ice and attempted to dump the puck in after crossing the red line. It hit a Lightning player and bounced right back to him, allowing him to make a slick little entry feed to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as he was crossing the blue line. RNH took space on the right side before doubling back and finding Jones in the high slot. His first shot was blocked, but he gathered his own rebound and calmly slotted it past Vasilevskiy to tie the game 1-1.
A bit of life surged through the visitors and, through a bit of fortune, they managed to earn the game’s second power play too, this time via a Tampa Bay bench minor for too many men.
Unfortunately for Edmonton, this power play was even worse than the first. Instead of stealing the momentum, Tampa Bay stole the game through a shorthanded marker from Yanni Gourde after some confusion at the OZ blue line. 1-2.
After that back breaker of a goal against, the Oilers couldn’t regain themselves before the end of the period, and relied again on a sound performance from Mike Smith to get them to the intermission only down by the one goal, as Tampa flexed once again and owned the remainder of the period.
Still though, no blood, and the Oilers were only down 1-2 after forty minutes.
Speaking of no blood, it behooves us mentioning Zack Kassian’s inexplicable decision to kick Erik Cernak in the chest with a few minutes left in the period. It was an absolutely despicable play and Kassian deserves every bit of whatever insufficient suspension he’ll be getting in the next 24 hours. Absolutely indefensible, and I cannot stress enough how bad that contract extension is/was/will be for the Oilers. What an absolutely massive mistake by Ken Holland.
The Oilers were OK to start period three, but Tampa Bay is a really, really good hockey club. A couple of flurries saw them go close on a couple of occasions, but these were never part of — or even really at the end of — extended sequences of Edmonton pressure. Their best chances were one-offs from broken plays, and it’s fair to give Kailer Yamamoto some love here for his efforts tonight. On more than two occasions he made some excellent plays on the forecheck to gain possession and set up teammates, only for them to fumble away the opportunity, or fail to connect with the pass.
And that was about as close as they would come, as Tampa choked the game out from there and never really looked likely to concede a GTG after that.
Before too long it was empty net territory for the Oilers, and with Mike Smith on the bench, Tampa Bay’s Paquette scored into the empty net to put the game to bed for good.
1-3 after sixty minutes, and a good lesson learned about just how far the Oilers have to go to hobnob with the league’s truly elite teams.
What began as a schedule loss coming in (for no other reason than the Lightning are a few tiers above the Oilers and Edmonton was in town without their captain) quickly shifted to a winnable game after Tampa’s injury report broke in the early afternoon. Of course, the Oilers were shorthanded too, but it seemed like there was a chance. Especially if they got some good goaltending from Mike Smith.
And they did! But they still weren’t that close in this one. The score likely flatters them some, as Tampa Bay really could have run away with this one early had their early posts found the net.
All that said, it’s hard to be too disappointed in this result. Coming in, you’d expect the Oilers to lose to Tampa in Tampa ten times out of ten without Connor McDavid, so it’s probably not worth crushing them in a game they were a lucky bounce away from tying even with Tampa’s injuries. It is what it is.
All numbers 5v5 and courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
CF%: 41 - 52 — 44.09%
FF%: 34 - 42 — 44.74%
SCF%: 20 - 25 — 44.44%
HDCF%: 10 - 10 — 50.00%
Shots: 27 - 35 — 43.55%
xG%: 1.99 - 2.16 — 48.03%
Golazos: 1 - 1 — 50%
The Oilers stay in Florida to take on the Panthers (30-21-6) on Saturday afternoon at 2PM MST. See you then.