The Edmonton Oilers’ rollercoaster of a season continued on Monday night, as they fell to the New Jersey Devils by a 5-2 final. Given that the victory served as the Devils’ 13th straight, it may be easy to think from the box score that they simply fell to a team in the midst of a heater. While that may be partly true, those who watched this game know it was a winnable one.
There were some things to like about the Oilers on this evening, and plenty more to be frustrated about. Some had hoped that their massive overtime victory versus the Vegas Golden Knights over the weekend may have been what was needed to get them going, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Here are five takeaways from what was an extremely frustrating loss.
Oilers’ Skinner Subpar at Best
Early into this 2022-23 season, Stuart Skinner has been somewhat of a saviour for this Oilers team, as Jack Campbell has struggled immensely. Despite how good Skinner has been, however, Monday was easily his worst game of the season, one in which he was heavily outdueled by Vitek Vanecek at the other end of the ice.
While no blame should go to Skinner on the Devils’ opening goal, he gifted them the second with a puck-playing gaffe which was capitalized on by Dawson Mercer. It was extremely untimely, as the Oilers were controlling play at that point in what was a 1-1 game. Then, three minutes later, he gave one up to Damon Severson in which he appeared to lose an edge and was falling over before the shot left the Devils’ defenseman’s stick. Some blame can be given to his teammates here because it was an odd-man rush, but the 24-year-old himself would admit it was a goal he would like to have back.
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The Devils’ fourth goal of the game, while highlight-reel worthy, wasn’t much better from Skinner, who let out a massive rebound on a long-range Mercer shot, resulting in Tomas Tatar sneaking in and batting one home out of the air. Yegor Sharangovich’s goal to make it 5-2 wasn’t at all on Skinner, though by that time the game felt like it was already over.
Oilers Had Many Missed Opportunities
As mentioned, the Oilers played a solid game at times on Monday and even controlled play for good chunks of the opening two frames. That said, they failed to capitalize much during that time, as Vanecek made several ten-bell saves.
One of those saves came on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who received an excellent feed from Leon Draisaitl and had a lane to the net, only to be denied by the glove hand of Vanecek. That missed opportunity proved massive, as the Devils took the puck down to the other end of the ice and made it a 4-2 game. Had Nugent-Hopkins been able to put it home, this game could have had a much different end result.
Another great opportunity came shortly after the Devils had made it 4-2, as Vanecek was well outside his net while Ryan McLeod had the puck on his stick in tight. Despite having the yawning cage, however, his shot on goal happened to deflect off of his own teammate Zach Hyman and dribble just wide. It was a play that was quite indicative of the Oilers’ evening.
Connor McDavid also had several great chances that, on a different night, could have resulted in a multi-goal outing for him. One in particular came in the third period, where he showed his lightning-quick speed in an attempted wrap-around, only to be robbed by a stretching Vanecek on what appeared to be a sure goal.
Early Goals Against Strike Once Again
As has been the problem so often, not only this season, but in years past, the Oilers gave up the opening goal in this contest less than three minutes into the first period. For whatever reason, it seems this group has trouble being ready to go for the start of games, resulting in them far too often playing catch-up early on.
Whatever the exact reason for this is anyone’s best guess. By all accounts, the players in the Oilers’ locker room understand that they have a roster that is worthy of Stanley Cup contention, and there is no questioning their will to reach those heights. That said, their preparation heading into games needs to improve, as these early goals are not a recipe for success. Head coach Jay Woodcroft needs to get to the bottom of this and do everything in his power to fix it (from ‘Pretty Please: Can the Edmonton Oilers not give up the first goal of the game?’, Edmonton Journal, 11/21/22).
Uncharacteristic Play From Oilers’ Top Players
While they have been far from bad, there is no denying the fact that both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have cooled off after their sizzling hot starts to the season. That was once again the case, as they finished the night with just one point each. Sure, that shouldn’t be looked at as a bad thing, but with how dominant they can be, it feels underwhelming.
What was the bigger issue than their lack of production, however, were theirs, and several of their teammate’s decisions. Draisaitl had far too many moments where his frustration was extremely visible. He was slow getting up when checked off the puck, and often at times sulked on his way to the bench. That was a major issue in this clip linked, where he took some serious time on a line change on a shift in which the Devils scored. It was far from the only problem on the play, but isn’t something you don’t want to see from one of your top players.
McDavid also displayed some poor body language at times and had an unusual, but horrendous giveaway in the third period which led to a terrific Devils chance. There were several other Oilers that displayed some less-than-ideal decisions on the night, but it stands out much more when plenty of it comes from their two elite stars.
Jack Campbell Leaves Game with Injury
Though Campbell didn’t play at all in this one, he received plenty of chatter due to being struck by a puck while sitting on the bench late in the second period. He appeared to immediately hold a towel up toward his eye and headed down the tunnel right afterward.
While no official update has been given, Skinner told reporters post game that his 30-year-old goaltending partner had a bloody nose as a result, but was joking around with teammates. This is good news, as this Oilers team cannot afford any more injuries right now.
Chance to Get Back on Track Wednesday
While the Oilers do have an off day on Tuesday, they won’t have a ton of time to think about this one, as they are right back in action on Wednesday against the New York Islanders. It certainly won’t be an easy tilt as this Islanders team is showing that last season was simply an off year, as they sit third in the Metropolitan Division with an 11-8-0 record. If the Oilers hope to be successful, they will need to play a full 60 minutes, something we haven’t seen much of from this group to this point.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.