3 Takeaways From Oilers’ 5-2 Loss to Blue Jackets – 4/24/22

The Edmonton Oilers will have to wait at least two more days to clinch second place in the Pacific Division, after missing a golden opportunity on Sunday (April 24) afternoon to secure home advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Needing just two points to lock up the No. 2 seed in the division, the Oilers took a 2-1 lead into the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets before allowing four unanswered goals and losing 5-2 at Nationwide Arena.

Evander Kane scored in the first period and Leon Draisaitl tallied in the middle frame for the Oilers, who may have ultimately run out of gas, considering Sunday’s 1:00 PM EDT puck drop in Columbus came only 37 hours after the Oilers completed a 6-3 home victory over the Colorado Avalanche 1,700 miles away at Rogers Place.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Oilers’ Playoff-Clinching Win Over Avalanche

Edmonton’s magic number for clinching second remains any combination of two points gained by the Oilers or lost by the Los Angeles Kings. They now have three games left and are next in action on Tuesday (April 26) against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena. The Kings have only two games more to play and are off until Wednesday (April 27) when they visit the Seattle Kraken.

Here are three takeaways from Edmonton’s 5-2 road loss to the Blue Jackets:

Oilers Miss Nurse’s Presence

Edmonton was playing on Sunday without top-pairing defenceman Darnell Nurse, who sustained a lower-body injury against the Avalanche on Friday and did not travel with the team for their two-game road trip through Columbus and Pittsburgh.

Nurse has become a lightning rod in Oil Country, largely because of his eight-year, $74 million contract extension signed last summer, but his importance to the Oilers is made very apparent any time he is out of the lineup, and Sunday was no different.

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Nurse’s 25-plus minutes of average ice time missing from the lineup, the rest of Edmonton’s blue line corps struggled to rise to the occasion as they saw an increase in their shifts. It was a particularly tough outing for rearguards Cody Ceci and Brett Kulak, who were both minus-2.

Edmonton is now 4-3-1 (.563 points percentage) without Nurse, compared to 42-24-5 (.627) when the 27-year-old veteran is in the lineup.

When asked Sunday whether Nurse will be available for Game 1 of the Oilers’ first-round series, which could be next Monday (May 2), Woodcroft responded with, “We’ll see.

“We don’t want to put any timelines on him, or anything like that,” Woodcroft said. “We didn’t bring him on the trip, and we’re allowing him to heal up.” 

Notable Goals Scored by Draisaitl and Kane

Kane stayed red hot on Sunday, putting the puck past Blue Jackets’ goalie Elvis Merzlikins just 3:08 into the game to give Edmonton a 1-0 lead.

It was Kane’s 21st goal in 40 games since signing as a free agent by Edmonton on Jan. 27. That’s the most goals by any player in his first 40 games with the franchise since 1988-89 when Jimmy Carson lit the lamp 32 times in his first 40 contests as an Oiler.

Including his hat trick against the Avs on Friday, Kane has goals in three straight games and has notched five goals and three assists over a five-game point streak.

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Meanwhile, Draisaitl added to his career-high by notching goal No. 55 of 2021-22, at 5:30 of the second period. Before this season, the German forward’s personal best was 50 goals, set in 2018-19.

Draisaitl also moved into a tie with Wayne Gretzky in 1980-81 for the eighth-most goals in a single season in Edmonton’s NHL history. With three games remaining, he still has an outside shot at joining Gretzky and Jari Kurri as the players with a 60-goal season for the Oilers.

Questions Answered About Oilers’ Goaltending

If Mikko Koskinen was to create even the slightest bit of doubt as to who Edmonton’s No. 1 goaltender was going to be in the playoffs, he had to do it Sunday when he made his first appearance between the pipes in 12 days.

Mikko Koskinen Edmonton Oilers
Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 33-year-old Oilers netminder wasn’t bad on Sunday, but he wasn’t great either, stopping 26 of 30 shots in a losing effort. Koskinen is 0-2-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average (GAA) and .885 save percentage (SV%) in just three starts this month and hasn’t won a game since March 30.

While Koskinen has regressed to the mean and has had limited action over the last few weeks, his cohort Mike Smith is playing at a near-elite level. Smith is 8-0-0 with a 1.75 GAA and .949 SV% in April and hasn’t lost a game since March 26.

Up until the last few weeks, Smith had been struggling through a dreadful campaign. He’d spent much of the season sidelined by a multitude of injuries, and when he had been able to play, his performance was substantially below standard. The Oilers had needed one of their veteran goalies to establish himself as ‘The Man’ going into the postseason, and Smith has done just that.

Oilers Get Set for Pittsburgh

The countdown is on for the playoffs now, and the Oilers know they’ll be there. They just don’t know the who and the where. The likeliest scenario is against the Kings in a series that opens at Rogers Place. The two other possibilities: against the Kings in a series that gets underway in Los Angeles at Crypto.com Arena; or against the Vegas Golden Knights in a series that begins in Edmonton, which is highly unlikely.

This could all be determined on Tuesday when the Oilers look to sweep their season series against the Penguins. Edmonton defeated them in their first meeting of the season, 5-2 at Rogers Place on Dec. 1.