When asked by media Sunday (Dec. 5) after his team was beaten 5-1 by the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett said it’s never a blessing in disguise to lose, which is exactly what anyone in his position would say. No coach will entertain the notion that a loss has the slightest of bright sides under any circumstance.
But from his other comments, it was clear Tippett knows his team needs a wake-up call, and the ugly defeat against Los Angeles might be it. It certainly should be it.
Following a 9-1-0 start, Edmonton is 7-6-0 in its last 13 games. Bad habits the Oilers were getting away with early in the season are catching up with them, and it all came to a head on Sunday at Rogers Place, where the Oilers were embarrassed against a team far below them in the standings.
“This has been coming for a while,” Tippett said during his post-game media availability. “We’ve been masking it with some special teams stuff, but we haven’t played well, and we haven’t had enough guys play well for a while.”
Oilers’ Loss to Los Angeles Felt Familiar
Sunday’s tilt unfolded like so many others have for Edmonton this season; the Oilers had the game taken to them, fell behind early, and were left playing chase. Only, unlike the first few weeks of the season but increasingly common of late, when the Oilers went to flip the switch, that extra gear wasn’t there.
Edmonton trailed 1-0 before the game was barely two minutes old, and Los Angeles extended its lead to 2-0 in the second period. Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse scored midway through the frame to cut the deficit to 2-1, sparking belief that Edmonton would rally for its eighth come-from-behind victory of the season. But that confidence proved false for the Oilers, who were outshot 14-4 in the third period and simply couldn’t get anything going.
After a major penalty to Connor McDavid left the Oilers playing shorthanded for five minutes late in the third period, the Kings struck for three power-play goals in a span of 2:19 to blow the game wide open.
Sure, the final score didn’t reflect a game with a one-goal differential until the last few moments. But the crawl on TSN or ESPN doesn’t bother with details; it just flashes the score before moving on to the next game. And for the Oilers players looking up at the Rogers Place jumbotron and seeing 5-1 in favor of the visitors, this score was too ugly to ignore.
Oilers’ Problems Start at Beginning of Games
The glaring area that Edmonton most needs to address is a propensity for slow starts. The Oilers have given up the first goal 14 times this season, including 11 times in the last 14 games. The Oilers are 7-7 overall when trailing first, but just 1-3 over the last two weeks.
In the season’s early going, the Oilers seemingly never found themselves in a hole that they couldn’t score themselves out of. The generational tandem of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid and a near-unstoppable power play provided Edmonton sense of confidence that the game was never out of reach.
During their 9-1 start, the Oilers went 15/30 with the man advantage, scoring at least once on the power play every game. But in their last eight outings, Edmonton is 4/23 on the power play and has only scored with the man advantage in three of those games.
While evidence to the contrary mounts, too many Oilers continue treating the beginning of a game like an optional skate more than the defining moments that set the tone for victory or defeat. In three of their last five games, the Oilers have given up a goal in the first four minutes. In three of the previous six, they’ve spotted the opposition a lead of at least two goals and ultimately lost.
McDavid Penalty Didn’t Decide Game
There was much discussion in Oil Country Sunday night about whether McDavid deserved the major penalty that ultimately sealed Edmonton’s fate; with 6:33 remaining, the Oilers captain was assessed five minutes for boarding and given a 10-minute misconduct after a hit on Los Angeles forward Adrian Kempe. But to focus on that call is to miss the point. The Oilers lost is not because they lacked McDavid for the last seven minutes. It’s because they lacked performance for the first 53 minutes.
Tippett disagreed with the severity of McDavid’s penalty – he mentioned during his post-game availability that while “they said there was an injury” on the play, Kempe was back out on the ice moments later – but he wasn’t letting his team off the hook. The longtime coach was as critical as he has been since stepping behind the Oilers bench in 2019. He’s seized upon this as a teaching moment, and after their effort against Los Angeles, if the Oilers aren’t hearkening now, one can’t help but wonder if they’ll ever learn.
“I think some adversity is good for us right now,” Tippett said. “It’s a recognition that we have to get better as a whole group. I’m not singling anybody out; as a whole group, we’re going to have to get better.
“We’ve had a good start, we’ve done some good things, but we’ve got to be way better if we’re going to be a real top competitive team. You’re going to go through some ups and downs, and these downs show how much you’ve got to get better.”
Edmonton is back in action on Tuesday (Dec. 7) when they host the Minnesota Wild as the Oilers continue their six-game homestand at Rogers Place.
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.