It may have taken a little longer than almost anyone had anticipated but for the first time this season, the Edmonton Oilers hit a wall of sorts on Thursday night at Madison Square Gardens. While yesterday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers was their third straight, it was the first time in 2016-17 that Todd McLellan’s side were thoroughly dominated from start to finish. And yet, they were 1:21 from earning at least a single point for the ninth time in eleven games.
Oilers tied 3-3 late. Looking at at least a point in first 5 road games, gas game. Lose 5-3 to New York Rangers. Three-game losing streak.
— Terry Jones (@byterryjones) November 4, 2016
Make no mistake, were it not for another stellar performance from netminder Cam Talbot in between the pipes, that final score would likely have been far more unflattering for the Oilers. While none of Edmonton’s previous three losses had the sort of feel to them as this one did, pushing the old panic button would probably be a bit of an overreaction at this stage. With that said, the club’s recent struggles have much of its fan base fearing what the immediate future holds for their hockey team.
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
While many seemed stunned with the run this team put together through October, in my mind, being anywhere other than in top spot in the Pacific Division on November 1 would have been a disappointment. To their credit, they did one better in finishing atop the Western Conference but much of that could be attributed to an extremely favourable schedule, which has been mentioned on numerous occasions in this very spot. The real test was always going to be that first road swing and so far it has been a bit of a mixed bag.
Despite dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs to kick-off their trip out east, the Oilers were arguably the better team and were a tad unlucky to not leave the Air Canada Centre with two points in their back pocket. A tough break but let’s not forget that every team is going to win and lose a handful of games a season in which they likely deserved the opposite fate. In fact, one can argue Edmonton has already bagged one or two at the aforementioned opposite end of the spectrum,
Is this the part where Oilers Nation completely melts down and demands Eberle be traded and Benning be sent down?
— B.L.H. (Edmonton Oilers Enthusiast) (@BeerLeagueHeroe) November 4, 2016
Last night was a different story. Yes, the Oilers were not very good and had only a handful of names join their goaltender on the positive side of the ledger — hello Anton Lander, Patrick Maroon, Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse and Jesse Puljujarvi. Not exactly a performance to write home about but they still managed to find a way to get three pucks in behind Henrik Lundqvist and actually held the lead with just over 11 minutes to play.
Oilers Continue to Be in Every Game
Again, as poorly as Edmonton played, they were a mere 81 seconds away from pushing last night’s festivities into an extra session and grabbing at least one point against a pretty good club. Unfortunately for them, that is not how things played out, but by no means is this the time to start waving the white flag. The fact it took this collection of players this far into the season before having their lunch fed to them, can be viewed as nothing but a positive. Were there mistakes? You bet. But in the grand scheme of things, the game was there for the taking.
Tough loss for Oilers. Were in game all night. Mishandle puck at blueline leads to game winner. Benning has lots of potential. #Oilers
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) November 4, 2016
Was it a little perplexing to see rookie blueliner Matthew Benning on the ice in a 3-3 game with less than two minutes to go? It was and the kid made the mistake that ultimately led to the eventual game-winner. Certainly, a bit of a head scratcher from a coaching perspective but on the other hand, the Oilers top two pairings of Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson and Kris Russell – Andrej Sekera had both struggled for much of the night. Safe to say McLellan would love a Mulligan on that decision but that ship has sailed. Learn from it and move on.
Is it concerning that a good chunk of the forward group has gone ice-cold on the scoring front at the same time and the power play still looks disjointed? Absolutely, and you can bet the lines will be juggled prior to Saturday night’s contest with John Tavares and the struggling New York Islanders. How about the fact their backend doesn’t look quite as effective when the opposing coach has the last line change? You bet, but that was always going to be part of the equation this season and anyone who believed different was simply kidding themselves.
Bottom line for Oilers: 3 straight losses. I won't be surprised if we see some new line combos tomorrow at practice.
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) November 4, 2016
At the end of the day, the Edmonton Oilers are two games into their five-game road trip and have a regulation and overtime loss for their troubles. Not an ideal start by any stretch but should they manage to find a way to get past the Islanders tomorrow night, suddenly you are looking at a .500 trip with stops in Detroit and Pittsburgh to follow. So at least for the time being…the sky is not falling and likely won’t be anytime in the immediate future.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.