It’s said that when it rains, it pours. However, snow is more fitting for this time of year, and in that case, the Edmonton Oilers are in the middle of a blizzard.
Tuesday (Dec. 14) started with the city under half a foot of fresh powder, and Oilers center Ryan McLeod placed being in COVID Protocol. It ended with a wind chill well below -20 Celsius and Oilers coach Dave Tippett entering Protocol.
And in between, the Oilers were buried by an avalanche of goals while their star scorers remained colder than the air outside Rogers Place, where Edmonton’s NHL team dropped its sixth straight game, 5-1 to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
Suddenly, everything is going wrong in the worst way possible for the Oilers, who were riding high at 16-5 after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 1. They’re now 16-11 and sliding down the standings faster than snow down the mountainside.
Over their losing streak, the Oilers have trailed for 296:34 and led for 0:00, while giving up the first goal and falling behind by at least two in all six games. They’ve been outscored 20-6 in the first five games of their current six-game homestand, which is threatening to go down as one of the absolute worst in the franchise’s 42 NHL seasons.
So as the Oilers continue trying to dig themselves out of this mess, we are left sifting through the dust of their latest loss.
Oilers Are in a Fragile State
After stumbling out of the gate in the preceding five defeats, Edmonton had a relatively strong start against the Leafs. Goalie Mikko Koskinen finally made it through the opponent’s first 10 shots without conceding a goal, while the Oilers created several scoring opportunities for themselves.
The first sign of trouble came when Leon Draisaitl missed a wide-open net that would have given Edmonton its first lead in six games, and the NHL’s leading scorer just stood slumping in disbelief. Later in the period, a frustrated Draisiatl was sent off after getting tangled up with Auston Matthews. Draisaitl was in the box when Matthews scored on Toronto’s 11th shot to put the Leafs in front 1-0 at 19:25 of the first period, and a “here we go again” sense of dread fell over the Oilers.
The Oilers regrouped enough to outshoot Toronto 8-0 over the first eight-plus minutes of the second period but failed to beat goalie Jack Campbell and had the life sucked out them when Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds scored on his team’s first shot of the period at 8:47.
Edmonton fell behind 3-0, and when Colton Sceviour scored to cut Toronto’s lead to two early in the third period, Morgan Reilly answered with a goal to restore the Leafs’ three-goal lead just over a minute later. That was the backbreaker, and whatever confidence remained intact for the Oilers was shattered when Matthews scored his second goal of the night to make it 5-1.
Home Ice Disadvantage at Rogers Place
The Oilers fragile psyche is not being helped by the atmosphere inside Rogers Place, where everyone seems to be waiting for something bad to happen. Everyone, that is, except for the Leafs fans, who showed up in droves as they always do when the Buds come to town. They were often louder than the Oilers fans, who, to be fair, had nothing to make noise about on this night.
There’s a rapidly growing frustration at Rogers Place, where Oilers fans have braved frigid winter nights five times in the last week and a half only to watch their team get rolled like a snowball each time. Sentiments turned particularly ugly late in Tuesday’s game when an Oilers jersey was thrown on the ice in the middle of play.
Going back to last season, the Oilers have lost four straight times to Toronto in their barn and have been outscored a combined 18-2 by the Leafs in those games. Fortunately for Oilers fans, they didn’t have to witness the previous three home losses to Toronto in person, as they came last season when attendance was not permitted at games in Canada.
McDavid & Draisaitl Have Cooled Off
Entering Edmonton’s homestand, Oilers forwards Draisaitl and Connor McDavid were running away from the pack in the NHL scoring race, with 43 and 42 points, respectively.
In the five games since, Draisaitl has just two points, both goals, and McDavid has three assists and no goals. Over that span, Draisaitl has been held without a point in four games, while McDavid has gone pointless in three.
Both former Hart and Art Ross trophy winners have now gone consecutive games without a point, the first time that’s happened since Feb. 27 and Mar. 1 (a span of 58 regular-season games), against – you guessed it – the Leafs.
Digging Deep for Something Good
To close this out on a (sort of) positive note, Sceviour’s goal was his first of the season and first as an Oiler. It was also the first time a player in Edmonton’s bottom-six has scored a goal in three weeks; the most recent had been McLeod, nine games ago against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 23.
Also, Jason Gregor of TSN 1260 reported that Oilers goalie Mike Smith could return for Edmonton’s next game, Thursday (Dec. 16) against the Columbus Blue Jackets, after being sidelined by injury since Oct. 19.
For precautionary reasons, Tippett was not behind the Oilers bench Tuesday. Assistant coach Jim Playfair filled in as head coach.
It was revealed only a few minutes after the game that Tippett is going into COVID protocol which means the coach will be away from his team for at least 10 days, which would be at minimum Christmas.
The Oilers will play five games before then, starting with the finale of their homestand against Columbus. The forecast isn’t warming up in Edmonton any time soon, but the Oilers need to get hot in a hurry.
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.