Edmonton Oilers strengths melting into weaknesses at the wrong time

“We just haven’t done a good enough job of being stubborn with it and closing out games. Obviously that’s a big part of our team and we’ve lost that a little bit lately but it’s nothing that I’m too, too concerned with.”

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The biggest concern for the Edmonton Oilers right now, in the wake of a crushing home-ice defeat in which they coughed up a two-goal lead, isn’t the percentages.

History’s analytics in a situation like this say the Oilers now have just a 24 per cent chance of coming back and winning the series.

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That sounds dire, but it isn’t.

Win Game 4 at Rogers Place on Wednesday, square the Western Conference Final at 2-2 and everything is back to around 50-50.

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Nope, the thing they should be most worried about as they prepare for another ‘most important game in Connor McDavid’s career’ is how so many of their strong suits during the regular season are letting them down when it matters most.

The most dangerous and dynamic power play the NHL has ever seen is 0-for-5 in the series and has one goal in its last 16 chances dating back to Game 4 against Vancouver. It’s not getting a lot of looks, two a night if they’re lucky, but they need it to convert.

A first period power play at 3:45 Monday after going up 1-0 at 2:02 could have started a landslide. A second period power play could have turned the momentum back in Edmonton’s favour after that three-goal Dallas outburst.

This is a terrible time for their biggest weapon to be silenced.

“It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you only have one or two a game but it’s our job to go out there and produce and score,” said winger Zach Hyman Tuesday.

“Our power play needs to do a better job of creating momentum for our group,” added Leon Draisaitl. “We haven’t done a very good job of that the last three games in this series. We’ll look at some things, tweak a couple of things and step up when we need it.”

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Being able to close the deal is also something the Oilers were renowned for in the regular season. When leading after the first period they were a remarkable 27-3-3. When they had an opponent down, they kept it there.

Not so in these playoffs. So far Edmonton is just 3-3 when leading after 20 minutes and have already lost twice after leading 2-0 at the first intermission.

“I don’t think there are any common themes other than the other team playing with a little more desperation,” said head coach Kris Knoblauch. “Last night I thought we just got away from our game. For us to be successful those small details are not negotiable. If we’re going to have success we need everyone doing those every single time.”

And when a close game was on the line in the regular season the Oilers were money, going 13-4-2 in games tied after 40 minutes. In the post-season, they are finding ways to lose instead of win. They’re 0-4 in games that were tied heading into the third period, including Games 2 and 3 against Dallas.

“They seem to have found the timelier goal the last two games,” said winger Evander Kane, who hasn’t scored since Game 6 against Vancouver. “That’s something that we’re going to have to find.”

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Can anyone pinpoint the difference between then and now?

“I don’t think I can,” said Draisaitl. “We just haven’t done a good enough job of being stubborn with it and closing out games. Obviously that’s a big part of our team and we’ve lost that a little bit lately but it’s nothing that I’m too, too concerned with.”

Being able to finish? You don’t become the fourth-highest scoring team in the NHL without having a nose for the net, but the hands are letting them down in key moments.

They outshot Dallas 16-4 in the first period of Game 2, got just one goal out of it and lost. They outshot Vancouver 36-7 over the final two periods of Game 3, scored just twice and lost. They dominated Dallas in the first period of Game 3 (shot attempts were 29-9) and couldn’t find the third goal that might have pulled them away for good.

“We’ve had our opportunities, I think we can just maybe bear down a little more on the scoring chances,” said Knoblauch. “There have been a lot of missed nets, missed passes right when we’re almost there. But (the Stars) do defend well.”

So here comes the second potential breaking point in the series. Dallas avoided going down 0-2 at home, now the Oilers have to fend off going 1-3 because you don’t even want to know what the statistics are when that happens.

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And now that Dallas has first line centre Roope Hintz back, which seems to have brought Jason Robertson to life offensively, the Stars are an even greater obstacle.

The situation isn’t grave yet, but it’s serious.

“Dallas is a great team, give them credit, they’re a really good team,” said Hyman. “But we’re a great team. We were with them the whole way. It’s been one-goal games every game. There are times in the games where we absolutely dominated and times in the games where they’re dominating, so there’s nothing to be upset about, nothing to sulk about.

“We’ve been in this position before. We have a great opportunity with Game 4 at home to send the Western Conference Final to a best of three.”

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