After being shutout 4-0 by the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday (Feb. 8), getting to play their next game less than 24 hours later was supposed to be a good thing for the Edmonton Oilers: flush that loss before it has a chance to fester, win the next one and get back to feeling good.
But that’s not quite how things played out on Wednesday (Feb. 9) night at Rogers Place, where the Oilers were embarrassed 4-1 by the Chicago Blackhawks, losing for the ninth time in their last 11 home games with a performance that exemplified why Edmonton’s once-promising season has gone so wrong.
Leon Draisaitl had Edmonton’s lone goal, while Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Hagel, and Dylan Strome scored for the Blackhawks. Chicago goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 40 saves, outdueling his counterpart Mike Smith, who was beaten on four of 30 shots by the Blackhawks. Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s tilt in Edmonton:
Slow Start Dooms Oilers Again
Edmonton found itself trailing 2-0 before the game was three minutes old, with DeBrincat opening the scoring at 1:44 and Hagel notching what would prove to be the game-winning goal at 2:47.
The early two-goal deficit would prove to be too much to come back from for the Oilers, even though they carried the play for stretches, particularly in the second period when they outshot Chicago 20-6.
Draisaitl’s 33rd goal of the season, scored on the power-play at 6:03 of the middle frame, cut Chicago’s advantage to one. Still, Edmonton couldn’t score the equalizer before Strome beat Smith 68 seconds into the third period to restore a two-goal lead for the Blackhawks.
The game was indicative of just how hard it is to come from behind in the NHL, and an indictment on the Oilers, who have now allowed the opening goal in 32 of their 44 games this season, tied for most in the league with the expansion Seattle Kraken. Edmonton has an 11-18-3 record in games that the opponent scores first and is 1-14-2 when trailing after 20 minutes.
Smith Has Another Rough Outing
After Smith struggled Tuesday, allowing four goals on 28 Vegas shots in his return to action from a partially torn tendon in his thumb that had sidelined the veteran goalie since Jan. 5, it was widely presumed 23-year-old Stuart Skinner, who has largely played well in 12 starts this season, would get the start in goal for Edmonton against the Blackhawks.
Dave Tippett had other thoughts, electing to come back with the 39-year-old Smith for a second straight night. The Oilers coach addressed his decision during the post-game media availability, saying that Smith “wants to get up and going. We need to get him up and going, that’s just the reality of it.”
Since missing 10 weeks between mid-October and late December with an undisclosed injury, Smith has played just five games, going 0-4-1 with a dreadful 4.22 goals-against average and .872 save percentage. He has allowed at least two goals in the opening period of each of those five outings.
Over his last six starts, Smith has surrendered the game’s opening goal on the opponents’ third shot four times, once on the second shot, and now once on the first shot.
Is McDavid Playing Hurt?
Oilers captain Connor McDavid is just not quite looking like his usual spectacular self, and there could be a good reason for that.
While the subject hasn’t been broached in Edmonton, it was said last Saturday (Feb. 5) during ESPN’s broadcast of the 2022 NHL All-Star Game that McDavid had a bit of a knee issue, and there was some concern beforehand that the superstar center would not be able to participate in the midseason classic.
Take that with a grain of salt. McDavid did, after all, suit up for the All-Star Game and also competed in the fastest skater event at NHL All-Star Skills on Friday (Feb. 4). There has been no mention of an injury by McDavid or the Oilers, and the only game he missed with the Oilers was because of being in COVID protocol last month.
However, it’s impossible to ignore the massive drop in McDavid’s offensive output. McDavid assisted on Draisaitl’s goal Wednesday, giving him 61 points on the season, 3rd most in the NHL behind only Draisaitl and Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau. Still, that lofty total is a tale of two very different halves of the season’s first half.
Over Edmonton’s first 22 games, McDavid had 16 goals and 26 assists, averaging 1.91 points per game. Since Dec. 4, he has seven goals and 12 assists in 21 appearances, for an average of 0.90 points per game.
Considering McDavid averaged between 1.49 and 1.88 points in each of the past three seasons and has an average of 1.41 points over 450 career NHL games, producing less than one point per game over a span of two-plus months is cause for suspicion of whether he is playing at 100%.
It’s no coincidence that McDavid’s decline has mirrored that of his team: Edmonton started the season 16-5-0 and had the most points in the Western Conference on Dec. 2; the Oilers have won just seven of 23 games since then.
Islanders Are Up Next
The Oilers will have to wait a bit longer – but not too long – to rid themselves of the distaste from this latest loss; they’ll return to action on Friday (Feb. 11), when the New York Islanders stop by Rogers Place. The two teams last met on New Year’s Day, a 3-2 overtime win for the Isles on Long Island.
When asked during Wednesday’s post-game availability, Tippett wouldn’t commit to a starting goalie against the Islanders, but his comments suggested that it could certainly be Smith for a third consecutive game.
Whoever steps between the pipes, the Oilers desperately need to come away with points Friday. After Wednesday’s games, Edmonton has dropped to five points back of Calgary for the second wild card spot and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
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.