After roaring out to a two-goal lead, with the game under control and momentum on their side, the Edmonton Oilers did what they’ve done all too often in a season that is bleeding out before their very eyes.
They pounded on the self-destruct button until everything they had worked so hard for had gone up in smoke.
And that’s how 2-0 and 3-2 leads withered away to a 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers.
This, after letting a 4-3 lead with 11 minutes to go turn into a 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay last game.
After a brief two-game bump after head coach Jay Woodcroft was replaced by Kris Knoblauch, the Oilers fell to 2-2 under Knoblauch and 5-11-1 on the season.
It didn’t have to be this way, but a story we’ve seen time and again this year played out again in Sunrise, Fla.
With Connor McDavid and Evander Kane getting Edmonton out to a 2-0 lead in the first nine minutes, the Oilers looked like a winning team with something to prove.
Then Florida pushed back. And, for the second time in the last two games, Edmonton’s 2-0 lead was gone.
“We’re up 2-0, they need to open up and change the way they’re playing to get some opportunities and we should be able to take advantage of that,” said Knoblauch. “But we were giving them the opportunities.”
It was Kane who got the Panthers started, too. Just eight seconds after he gave Edmonton a two-goal lead, he took an untimely and undisciplined penalty away from the play that got Florida back in the game with a power play goal at 10:36.
“The PK has struggled all year for a number of different reasons,” said McDavid. “If we can find a way to get a kill and keep it 2-0 we can find our game again, but momentum seems to turn with that one and we end up tied 2-2 after one.”
Yup. Five minutes later, the Panthers were all square. It’s tempting to suggest the Oilers were victimized by bad luck because Mattias Ekholm’s clearing attempt hit Zach Hyman in the back to keep the play alive in Edmonton’s end, but the whole chain of events doesn’t happen if Evan Bouchard doesn’t hand over the puck to Florida behind Edmonton’s net.
“Right now I feel like maybe we maybe give up goals up a little too easy and they don’t have to fight and crawl back in a game,” said Ekholm. “They just came right back to 2-2. That’s something we have to be better at.”
After McDavid scored his second of the night on a penalty shot to give his team a 3-2 lead and move into the top 60 in NHL scoring, it was more “bad luck” for the Oilers.
Yes, Philip Broberg blows a tire on a broken stick, but the whole chain of events doesn’t happen if Kane doesn’t turn the puck over trying to go one-on-four at the Florida blue line.
When they say you make your own luck, this is what they’re talking about.
Luck had nothing to do with the Oilers chasing their tails around their own net and getting three chances at the goal that made it 4-3 Panthers at the second intermission.
It’s the ninth time in 17 games that the Oilers have allowed four or more goals in a game.
“We had enough chances to win,” said Knoblauch. “We just have to limit the opportunities the opposition gets.”
The Oilers put the pressure on in the third period but they couldn’t find the equalizer and Florida sealed it with an empty netter. Just like Tampa did a game earlier. The Oilers team that fought hard and closed out games last season seems to have disappeared in the fog.
“There’s lots of fight, I don’t think the resiliency is gone,” said McDavid. “I thought tonight was an emotional game that could have gone either way again, but we found ourselves on the wrong side. Like everyone says, we’re in the business of winning and we have to find a way to win.”
After working the gate on the Oilers bench for the first five games after being called up on Nov. 9, goaltender Calvin Pickard finally got a start for Edmonton. It was his first game since Nov. 4 in the minors and his first NHL start since Jan. 2022.
He did his part, with a third-period Florida breakaway among his 28 saves, but was at the mercy of an Oilers team that is still trying to figure things out defensively.
Edmonton got all the luck it needed when Florida had to go without one of the best two-way players in the game, Aleksander Barkov, who is out day-to-day with a knee injury. … Edmonton’s power play is one of the reasons things have fallen off so sharply this season and it let them down again in this one, going 0-for-3 with two shots on net. It hasn’t scored in its last 11 chances. … Defenceman Vincent Desharnais got into his second fight in two games, taking on Florida’s Jonah Gadjovich in a long and winding second-period scrap.
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