Not Your Grandfather’s Oilers

For about a 12-minute or so stretch from the end of the first period to the midway point of the second, it looked as though the Oilers were going to take down the defending Stanley Cup champions. Connor McDavid had three assists, Jordan Eberle had two goals, and Edmonton erased an early deficit to take a 3-1 lead into the middle frame. But no lead is safe against the Penguins, who have been comeback kings in this young NHL season. The Oilers were able to keep Sidney Crosby off the scoreboard, but they weren’t able to get the two points. Or even one for that matter.

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The Oilers Kept up with the Penguins

Despite the loss, the Oilers were right in the game; in fact, if not for a couple of lucky bounces for Pittsburgh, they could have escaped with a victory. Both teams are fast and skilled, and quite equally matched in terms of style. But the Oilers weren’t ready to start the game, going down by a goal in the first two minutes. McDavid’s speed was responsible for all three Oilers goals. He played a great game, which was special to watch, especially against arguably the fastest team in the league.

But this Penguins team doesn’t quit. Crosby didn’t get any points, but his work helped the Pens score their second marker of the night. The Pens were able to counter with their speed to tie things up, and an unfortunate bounce by Benoit Pouliot gave them the go-ahead tally. It was evident early that the Pens weren’t able to handle McDavid, but the Oilers’ defence had struggles of their own, and the more experienced Penguins found a way to win.

If anything, it was extremely encouraging to see Connor McDavid fare so well against an elite team. The Penguins’ top defensive pairing in particular simply wasn’t able to handle him. Unfortunately for the Oilers, they faced a team that has the guns to rival anybody, and not even 97’s brilliance could carry them through. Pittsburgh blog Pensburgh summed up the game in this way:

McDavid was amazing early, but a veteran Pens team never got down on themselves and they stuck with it and eventually made it all up to get the win in regulation. Champions advantage, some would say.

That’s an accurate assessment. The game really could have gone either way. It was a track meet for the most part, and neither team was particularly stellar defensively. But the margin in this game was the Penguins ability to climb their way back. It’s that kind of resiliency that wins championships. The Oilers have been much better in that department this season than in years past, and they had a front row seat to watch the best.

The Oilers Have Exceeded Expectations

With the loss, the Oilers fell to 9-4-1 on the season. But think about that for a minute. They are tied for the most points in the Western Conference. They haven’t already been eliminated from playoff contention. Cam Talbot has been playing fantastic. All the talk going into the game was about McDavid vs. Crosby. The best player vs. the future best player. The young Oilers captain had the better game in terms of points, but not where it mattered, and that’s in the standings.

There was a lot to be happy about in last night’s game. The Oilers had a lot of fight. They weren’t outplayed and they essentially lost on a really bad luck play. The Penguins carried the play for much of the latter part of the game, so it was inevitable they would make it interesting. But tonnes of credit go to the Oilers. And not just in this particular game. All season we’ve seen the Oilers do things we aren’t accustomed to seeing. They don’t fold when they’re trailing. They don’t slump their shoulders and go into panic mode.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Jordan Eberle had a big game after being quiet for a long stretch. But that’s who he is. He’s going to score goals, and go into droughts, and that’s about it. If you understand that about him, you won’t get as angry when he’s not producing. McDavid continues to rise to elite status with his play. He certainly seemed fired up to face Crosby. He had an extra jump in his step. The Oilers struggled in terms of breakouts, and their defence had a hard time making clean plays. But that’s to be expected with this group, as they still lack a true number-one puck mover.

The Oilers have surprised a lot of people so far this season. They didn’t let an early clunker to the Sabres knock them off track. They aren’t being overmatched in every game. There are still some warts, but in terms of expectations, they have fared much better than many thought they would. This isn’t the same old Oilers team, at least not so far. They had a glorious chance to beat the Penguins. They have to take the positives and move on. They have gone a long way in proving they’re a different team. Let’s hope they keep it up.