The Edmonton Oilers were defeated 3-2 by the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Friday (Nov. 12), falling to 1-2-0 on their five-game road trip. Leon Draisaitl scored both goals for the Oilers, who held a 2-1 lead in the second period before Buffalo scored twice unanswered on Edmonton netminder Stuart Skinner.
After getting off to a franchise-record 9-1 start to the 2021-22 NHL season, the Oilers have now dropped two of their last three, and suddenly the cracks in Edmonton’s armor are much more exposed. There is certainly no reason to panic in Oil Country, but the Oilers need to shore up their game.
Oilers Victimized by Slow Starts
Not only did the Oilers give up the first goal for the fourth straight game, but they also found themselves trailing after two periods for a fourth consecutive time. Edmonton managed to dig itself out of those holes in two of the previous three games, rallying to beat the New York Rangers 6-5 in overtime at home on Nov. 5 and the Boston Bruins 5-3 on the road Thursday. But as the saying goes, if you keep playing with fire, you’re going to get burnt, and on Friday, the Oilers were charred in Buffalo.
“We allowed them to score easy goals, so we chased the game the whole game,” an extremely terse Oilers coach Dave Tippett said in his post-game availability. “We had some effort there, we just didn’t play very smart.”
While now may be too early to call it a habit, it’s a very concerning pattern that has emerged with the Oilers during the first month of the season, in which they have given up the first goal seven times out of 13 games. Over the last four games, Edmonton has led for just 17:33 (7.3% of the game) and trailed for 125:40 (52.4%).
That’s not a recipe for success, and it speaks volumes to the offensive explosiveness of the Oilers that almost half (four) of Edmonton’s wins have been come-from-behind efforts. But as good as Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are, and as potent as Edmonton’s power play is, the Oilers are finding out they can’t just always flip the switch every time they get behind the eight ball.
Skinner Hasn’t Had Much Help
With veteran goaltender Mike Smith still recovering from an injury suffered against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 19, the highly touted Skinner is finally getting an opportunity with the Oilers. Friday was the second start in four days for the 23-year-old, who had played just one NHL game in his career prior to this week.
Unfortunately for Skinner, he has now lost both of his starts and is the goalie of record for two-thirds of Edmonton’s defeats this season.
However, the young netminder is hardly to blame; just as was the case in Edmonton’s 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday (Nov. 9), Skinner had no help in front of him in Buffalo on Friday. “We gave them four breakaways, and they scored on three of them,” was Tippet’s blunt one-sentence assessment.
Skinner, now 0-2 with a 3.10 goals-against average (GAA) and .902 save percentage (SV%), has been good, not great. While it’s fair to say the Edmonton native hasn’t made any saves to rob the opposition of a sure goal, he also hasn’t been beaten on a shot he should have had.
There are a lot of goalies that would have similar or worse stats if their teammates hung them out to dry as much as the Oilers have Skinner. They could also do him a favor by providing a bit more run support: Edmonton is averaging just two goals in his starts, compared to 4.45 when Smith or Mikko Koskinen gets the nod.
Draisaitl Continues to Amaze
For the second time in as many nights, Draisaitl had a two-goal game on Friday, scoring twice in a span of 2:49 early in the second period.
The 2019-20 NHL point-scoring champ now has 14 goals and 28 points in 13 games, leading the NHL in both those categories. McDavid, who notched an assist on Friday to maintain his streak of having at least one point in every game this season, is second with 25 points. With 12 goals, Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin is No. 2 after Draisaitl.
To put Draisaitl’s red hot start into perspective, his 14 goals are the second-most by an Oiler in the first 13 games of a season, behind only Wayne Gretzky’s 15 goals in the first 13 games of 1983-84. When Gretzky famously scored 50 goals in 39 games to start the 1981-82 season, he had 13 goals in the first 13 games.
At this rate, Draisaitl is on pace to score 88 goals in 82 games. Gretzky holds the all-time single-season record with 92 goals in 1981-82 and also ranks second on the list with 87 goals in 1984-85.
Oilers Are Off to St. Louis
Edmonton next plays Sunday (Nov. 14) against the St. Louis Blues, who head into their game on Saturday (Nov. 13) against the Carolina Hurricanes, sitting atop the Western Conference standings with 18 points from a record of 8-2-2.
Facing a team the caliber of the Blues, the Oilers will need a 60 (or more) minute effort if they are to avoid their first losing streak of the 2021-22 season.
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.