The panic across Oil Country is nearing red alert level in the aftermath of the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders at UBS Arena on Saturday (Jan. 1).
On the Oilers’ first visit to the sparkling new home of their erstwhile Stanley Cup Final rivals, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse scored for Edmonton, while goalie Mikko Koskinen made his first start since Dec. 14 and stopped 29 Islanders shots.
Following a 6-5 defeat to the New Jersey Devils in Newark on Friday (Dec. 31), the Oilers started off the New Year in the same way they bid farewell to 2021; blowing a third-period lead and losing in overtime.
One bad habit continued to plague the Oilers while one of their positive trends came to a halt, as Edmonton allowed the opening goal for an unfathomable 20th time in the last 24 games and suffered its first loss this season when holding a lead after two periods.
The Oilers now have won only twice and accumulated a meager six points over their last 11 games and are slipping down the standings with their lead over the Los Angeles Kings for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot down to one point. After exploding out of the gate this season, the Oilers have as many wins in the last 22 games as in their first 10 games when they exploded out of the gate at 9-1.
Increasingly, Edmonton seems to lack jump and drive. It’s a serious problem that is threatening to derail the Oilers 2021-22 season and the symptoms were piling up on Saturday. Here are three such reasons to be alarmed.
Oilers Failed to Show Up in 3rd Period
Coming out of the first intermission down 1-0, the Oilers had their strongest period of the game on Saturday, scoring twice in the second to jump ahead 2-1 and putting themselves in prime position to win: Edmonton was 12-0 when it held a lead after two periods, while the Islanders had a record of 0-10 when trailing to start the third.
But instead of seizing the opportunity and playing like a team desperate for a win, the Oilers came out flat-footed and coughed up the lead at just 2:23 of the third period when Anthony Beauvillier scored for the Isles.
The Oilers’ response to New York’s tying goal was even more disheartening; It wasn’t until 5:21 remained in regulation that Edmonton registered its first shot of the period on Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin. By that point, the Islanders had already fired 11 pucks at Koskinen and would go on to outshoot Edmonton 14-2 in a lopsided third period that saw the home side skate circles around the lethargic Oilers, who showed little urgency and lacked pushback.
Overtime was no different; the Islanders outshot Edmonton 2-0 with Noah Dobson scoring to end it at 3:52 of sudden death. The Oilers normally blaze across the ice as Bugattis moved when their tank was on empty and it seemed only a matter of time before New York’s inevitable game-winning goal.
Oilers Went Without a Power Play
Much has been made, and rightly so, of the numerous infractions opponents commit on Oilers captain Connor McDavid that go unpenalized. But that wasn’t why the Oilers didn’t get a single power-play opportunity on Saturday; they simply didn’t put New York in a position where the Islanders had to break the rules.
They weren’t moving their feet, taking it hard to the net, nor going into the corners; basically, anything that would have put the Isles in a compromising position, Edmonton failed to do.
As a result, the Oilers went without a power play for the first time since March 3, 2021, a span of 63 regular-season contests. After getting at least two opportunities on the man advantage in the first 29 games this season, Edmonton now has three straight games with less than two power plays. Not surprisingly, the Oilers are without a win over those three games.
Much of Edmonton’s early-season success was predicated on an explosive power play; over their 9-1 start, the Oilers scored 15 times with the man advantage and had at least one power-play goal in every game. On this current 2-7-2 slide, Edmonton has scored on the man advantage in only four of 11 games. Reigniting a potent power play could go a long way to busting out of their slump but the Oilers won’t even have that chance until the players start playing with more fire.
Oilers’ Words & Actions Lack Spark
There’s a disconnect between the Oilers’ words and results. In Saturday’s post-game media availability, Draisaitl’s plain assessment was that “all in all, I thought it was a pretty solid effort” and cited a lack of “puck luck” as one of the reasons for his team’s woes. After his team left the ice on the wrong side of the scoreboard for the ninth time in 11 games, Nurse offered that “we know the game, the style that we can play, we’ve shown that we can do it, we just need to do it on a nightly basis.”
Granted, giving token answers to stock questions while wearing blank expressions doesn’t mean the Oilers’ stars aren’t burning up on the inside. But there’s no sign of suppressed rage in the players, who betray no emotion in their comments. The same can be said for their actions and reactions during gameplay.
For the most part, this is a team of low-key personalities, so it may not be fair to expect a profanity-laced tirade or a locker-room trashing tantrum. But if the Oilers truly grasp the gravitas of the situation and appreciate that they’re in something nearing dire straits, one would expect to see that come out in their performance.
How and where they find their spark, time is running out for the Oilers to reverse course if they want to remain in the NHL playoff picture, let alone contend for the top spot in the Pacific Division. With four games postponed over the next couple of weeks, Edmonton’s opportunities to win are going to be few and far between and it’s going to be that much more difficult to build momentum. And it doesn’t get any easier, with Edmonton next scheduled for a date with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday (Jan. 3).
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.