3 Takeaways as Oilers Make Statement in OT Loss to Avalanche

In what was a spectacular showcase of hockey, played with speed, skill, and savvy, as 60 minutes wasn’t enough to separate the team atop the NHL overall standings from the league’s hottest club, at Ball Arena in Denver on Monday (March 21) night.

Nathan MacKinnon’s goal 52 seconds into overtime lifted the first-place Colorado Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, who saw their five-game winning streak come to an end but made a statement in the process.

Edmonton’s Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto each scored once on Colorado netminder Darcy Kuemper, as the Oilers battled back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to earn a hard-fought point at a rink where nearly every visitor comes away empty-handed.

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Goaltender Mike Smith looked strong in the Oilers’ net, stopping 28 of 31 shots against the league’s highest-scoring team, who got a pair of goals in regulation from Mikko Rantanen.

The result provided one of those rare occasions in Oil Country where the chatter following a loss was almost universally positive. No one likes to use the phrase “moral victory”, especially at this time of year with just 20 or so games remaining in the race to the postseason, but after watching the Oilers prove they could hang with the top contender for Lord Stanley’s chalice, Edmonton fans have to feel much better about the chances of a deep playoff run this spring. Here are three takeaways from the Oilers 3-2 overtime loss to the Avalanche:

Back-to-Back Strong Efforts from Smith

Hours after the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline had passed – making official what every Oilers’ follower knew, but far less were willing to accept: that no goaltending help was coming – the beleaguered Smith started between the pipes and delivered one his best performances of 2021-22.

Related: Oilers’ Smith Set to Become Third 40-Year-Old Player in Franchise History

After making 27 saves in Edmonton’s 6-1 defeat of the Buffalo Sabres last Thursday (March 17), Smith now has back-to-back games of allowing two or fewer goals in regulation for only the third time in what has been, frankly, a miserable season for the veteran goalie.

Since Jay Woodcroft replaced the fired Dave Tippett as Oilers head coach on Feb. 10, Smith is 4-4-1 with a 2.94 goals-against average (GAA) and .902 save percentage (SV%). Those stats aren’t all-star level by any means, but they’re far better than Smith’s numbers in his six latest starts prior to the coaching change (0-4-1, 4.55 GAA, .860 SV%), and perhaps offer hope that, after a season beset by injury and illness, he could yet rediscover his form of 2020-21 (21-6-2, 2.31 GAA, .923 SV%).

The Good, the Bad, and the Yamamoto

Monday was Yamamoto’s fourth multi-point performance during Edmonton’s current streak of six games without a regulation loss. With five goals and four assists, he trails only captain Connor McDavid (6 goals and 6 assists) for most points over these last half dozen games.

Kailer Yamamoto Edmonton Oilers
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The 23-year-old ripped a one-timer to score Edmonton’s first goal on Monday. Later, he took the puck away from Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson inside Colorado’s blue line and fed it to Kane, who found himself alone on Kuemper’s doorstep and cashed in on the scoring opportunity.

Unfortunately, the 5-foot-8, 153-pound Yamamoto also racked up the penalty minutes against the Avs. As usual, the smallest man on the ice wasn’t backing down from anyone, and ran afoul of the rule book (at least, as interpreted by Monday’s officiating crew) three times, being sent off for tripping, hooking, and tripping again. Yamamoto was in the box when Rantanen scored to give Colorado a 2-1 lead early in the second period.

Penalty Kill Again Factors in Loss for Oilers

On that topic, both of Colorado’s goals in regulation came with the man advantage. The Avs now lead the NHL with 49 power-play goals this season and were a constant threat at five-on-four against the Oilers. Edmonton’s penalty-kill didn’t necessarily execute poorly, but like so many others, it was powerless in the face of such firepower, and when the dust settled, they were just 3-for-5 killing off Colorado’s power-play opportunities.

In 41 games – exactly half of an entire 82-game season – since Dec. 5, Edmonton is 69.1 percent on the penalty kill, which is the worst in the entire league over that span.

The negative impact of this is incontrovertible. In 2021-22, the Oilers have 22 victories in 27 games when they don’t give up a power-play goal and just 13 wins in the 36 contests when they have surrendered at least one goal while short-handed.

For all the positives that have come since Woodcroft took over, the penalty-kill is one part of Edmonton’s ship that hasn’t yet been righted and remains a serious source of concern as the playoffs draw closer.

Dallas is Next Stop for Oilers

Edmonton is now third in the Pacific Division with 75 points, and four points ahead of the Dallas Stars, who are currently the first team on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. They also happen to be next on the schedule for the Oilers, as they will take on the Stars in a key matchup at American Airlines Center on Tuesday (March 22).

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