5 Takeaways From Oilers’ 4-2 Loss to Blues in First Game Back

The Edmonton Oilers were playing for the first time in 11 days. Their No. 1 goalie was making his first start in 10 weeks. And yet, everything went the same as it has gone far too often over the last two months.

Edmonton fell behind early and looked sluggish throughout a 4-2 defeat by the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Wednesday (Dec. 29). It was the seventh loss in the last nine games for the Oilers, who are just 9-11 after starting the season 9-1.

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Returning to action following the NHL’s schedule pause, the Oilers got goals from Evan Bouchard and Leon Draisaitl. Mike Smith made 29 saves for the Oilers in his first appearance since suffering a lower-body injury on Oct. 19.

Same Old Same Old

It’s been discussed ad nauseam this season, but just in case anyone forgot over the last week and a half, the Oilers made sure that all the talk around the water cooler Thursday morning would be their horrible starts, falling behind 2-0 before the game was even 7 minutes old on Wednesday.

Blues center Robert Thomas opened the scoring at 4:03 of the first period, the 17th time in the last 21 games that the Oilers have given up the first goal, and the fifth time in the previous eight, they’ve allowed a goal at 4:18 or earlier.

Less than three minutes later, Jordan Kyrou tallied to put St. Louis ahead by two, the seventh time in the last eight games that Edmonton has been down 2-0.

The Oilers have now trailed first an NHL-high 20 times this season and are tied for second in the league with 11 times trailing after the opening period.

No Excuses

The Oilers played lethargically in St. Louis, which is understandable after having gone a week and a half between games and being without the services of some key skaters, including defensemen William Lagesson and Darnell Nurse, and forwards Zack Kassian and Jesse Puljujarvi.

But that’s no different a situation than pretty much any NHL team right now, the Blues included. St. Louis was missing its share of lineup regulars and hadn’t played a game in 10 days before taking the ice on Wednesday.

As the NHL tries pressing forward amid the pandemic, issues of postponements and rescheduling and players in and out of COVID protocol will continue to arise. The teams that rise to meet these challenges will advance to the postseason, which is exactly where the Oilers strive to be.

Disastrous Debut

Highly touted Oilers prospect Dmitri Samorukov suited up for his first career NHL game on Wednesday, and it could not have gone worse for the 22-year-old defenceman from Russia.

Related Link: 7 Things to Know About New Oilers Defenseman Dmitri Samorukov

He first failed to corral the puck, leading to a 2-on-0 break for the Blues that Thomas finished off after playing give-and-go with Vladimir Tarasenko. Then he was turned inside out by Kyrou, who faked out Samorukov with a stutter-step at Edmonton’s blueline, creating a clear path to the net where the Blues sniper beat Smith for a 2-0 St. Louis lead.

Samorukov never saw the ice again, remaining stapled to the bench for the last 53:01 of the game. He finished his first NHL game with a minus-two rating and only 2:28 ice time.

His benching drew criticism from many observers on social media. Tippett said during post-game media availability that it was assistant coach Jim Playfair who decided to sit Samorukov and roll with five defensemen for the rest of the game.

Smith Looks Solid

After being sidelined for 26 games, Smith showed no signs of rust in his return. The 39-year-old netminder didn’t get the win but certainly wasn’t the reason Edmonton lost. He made the saves he should have and didn’t get much help from his young defenceman.

“He was good in the net and out of the net,” Tippett said after the game. “He moved the puck very well. We hung him out to dry on a couple of those odd-number breaks that he didn’t have any chance on, but it’s for him to get back in there and get going.

Scoring Slump

Edmonton scored at least three goals in nine of its first 10 games but has been held under three in 11 of the last 20. In their last eight games, the Oilers are 2-0 when scoring more than two, 0-6 when scoring two or less.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Depth scoring remains a major concern for Edmonton, but that’s nothing new. Generally, the Oilers go as the MVP duo of Draisaitl and Connor McDavid go, and lately, neither has been quite up to their Hart Trophy standard.

While each recorded a point Wednesday, Draisaitl scoring for the first time in five games and McDavid assisting on Bouchard’s goal, their production during Edmonton’s slump has dropped precipitously from the early part of the season, when both seemed a lock to reach 150 points in 2021-22.

Over the last eight games, Draisaitl has seven points after opening the season with 43 points in 22 games. McDavid racked up 42 points through 22 games but has just one goal to go with seven assists in his last eight games. Their combined scoring average has dropped by nearly two points per game, from 3.86 in the season’s first 22 games to 1.88 in the last eight.

While it’s not fair to ask so much so often of Draisaitl and McDavid, the uncomfortable truth is that the Oilers will only go as far as the Dynamic Duo can drag them.

Up Next

The Oilers don’t have to wait long for a chance to get back on track, with their next game scheduled for 1:00 pm EST against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on Friday (Dec. 31). The quick turnaround makes for some intriguing storylines. Will Smith get a second straight start? Will Samurokov get another chance? Will anyone that was unavailable Wednesday be cleared to play? And the only question that really matters is, can Edmonton get a much-needed win to close out 2021?