Two nights. Two games. Two losses. But two entirely different sentiments for the Edmonton Oilers on their quick road trip this week.
One day after falling 3-2 in overtime to the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers were beaten 5-3 by the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Tuesday (March 22), leaving Edmonton with a 0-1-1 record from its back-to-back games against Central Division rivals.
Related: 3 Takeaways as Oilers Make Statement in OT Loss to Avalanche
Whereas their stellar effort in Denver on Monday (March 21) showed the Oilers can go toe-to-toe with the top team in the NHL overall standings, Tuesday’s loss exposed flaws that have prevented Edmonton from performing like a Stanley Cup contender on a nightly basis.
Ahead 3-2 with just over five minutes remaining, Edmonton was unable to close out the Stars. Dallas scored twice in a 24-second span to take the lead, then finished off the Oilers with an empty-net goal. The Oilers got goals from Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, and Kailer Yamamoto, while captain Connor McDavid notched a pair of assists. Mikko Koskinen stopped 23 of 27 shots in the losing cause.
Any questions the Oilers appeared to have answered against the Avs are being asked once again in the aftermath of a disappointing result in Dallas. Here are three takeaways from their loss to the Stars:
Oilers’ First Goal Win Streak Comes to an End
All good things must come to an end, even the ones that start well. The Oilers found this out the hard way on Tuesday night.
While Edmonton far too often gives up the first goal of the game (42 times this season, second-most in the NHL behind only the expansion Seattle Kraken), the Oilers entered Tuesday’s game unbeaten when scoring first with a record of 21-0-0.
Thus, there was ample reason for confidence when Yamamoto put Edmonton in front 1-0 by scoring his 17th goal of the season, late in the opening frame. So much so, in fact, that the account for Sportsnet’s stats and information department tweeted “with a win, (the Oilers) would match an NHL record by starting a season 22-0-0 when scoring first, joining the 1944-45 Canadiens.”
The superstitious sports fans among us will say that you don’t speak of a no-hitter in the eighth inning, nor do you utter the word “shutout” after two periods. After Tuesday’s turn of events, they’ll be yelling from the rooftops that the first period isn’t time to start reading from the NHL’s record book.
Whether one believes that the Oilers were jinxed by this unfortunately timed tweet, or that the law of averages just caught up with them, the 1944-45 Canadiens can breathe easy, their 77-year-old record will stand for at least one more season.
Koskinen Looking Very Normal
Speaking of the law of averages, Koskinen appears to have regressed to the mean after an impressive stretch of games had sparked hope in Edmonton that the veteran netminder might be able to carry the load for an extended postseason run.
Tuesday marked the sixth time in Koskinen’s last seven games that he has surrendered at least three goals. He has given up four or more goals in regulation in two of his last three starts, after going on a career-best 12 consecutive starts without allowing more than three goals before overtime.
In his last seven starts (including Tuesday’s game in Dallas), Koskinen is 4-2-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average (GAA) and .893 save percentage (SV%). In his eight starts prior (Jan. 22 – March 1), he was 7-0-1 with a 2.19 GAA and .934 SV%, and in his seven starts before that (Dec. 5 – Jan. 20), Koskinen had gone 0-6-1 with a 4.28 and .855 SV%.
Meanwhile, Mike Smith has looked pretty good in his last two appearances (including Monday against the Avalanche), going 1-0-1 with a 1.99 GAA and .932 SV%. Of course, before that, the former All-Star goalie had gone 3-8-1 with a 3.86 GAA and .877 SV% in his previous 13 outings (Oct. 19 – March 5). That came after starting the season 2-0-0 with a 1.93 GAA and .952 SV%.
You may sense a pattern here. Actually, you may sense there is no pattern here because the only consistent thing about Edmonton’s goaltending is inconsistency. It’s been this way for seasons now, and just as surely as one of these netminders gets hot for a fortnight, he’ll cool off within a couple of weeks.
To believe that at age 33 and 40, respectively, Koskinen or Smith are going to prove reliable over the long-term would seem like wishful thinking. Their performance in these last two road games has only reinforced as much.
Puljujarvi Struggling to Score
Speaking of inability to produce over an extended period of time, winger Jesse Puljujarvi was held pointless for the third time in four games and has still yet to score since his return on March 17 after being sidelined for a month.
It’s not so good to be (Bison) king these days, as the fan-favourite’s spot on Edmonton’s second line alongside Draisaitl and Zach Hyman seems tenuous with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the verge of being activated from injury reserve (IR).
Puljujarvi’s struggles pre-date his month-long absence from the lineup, resulting from a lower-body injury suffered on Feb. 17. Prior to going on IR, he had just two goals and three assists in 18 games, including a stretch where he was held without a point in 13 of 14 games.
It’s no coincidence that when the 23-year-old was firing on all cylinders, with 5 goals and 7 assists in the season’s first 10 games, Edmonton was a near-perfect 9-1-0. The Oilers are 8-2-0 in games that Puljujarvi scores; they’ve won 20 of 40 games that he plays and does not light the lamp.
The 23-year-old Finn is one of the keys to the Oilers’ fortunes. New coach Jay Woodcroft, who wasn’t yet behind Edmonton’s bench when Puljujarvi was playing his best hockey, must figure out how to unlock it again.
Sharks Up Next
After Tuesday’s NHL action, the Oilers sit third in the Pacific Division and are now just two points ahead of the Stars, who hold the Western Conference’s final wild card spot. They return to action at Rogers Place on Thursday when they host the San Jose Sharks, a team they have played just once so far this season, winning 3-0 on the road on Feb. 14.