Edmonton Oilers vibe check: Steady as she goes after 7-4 loss

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Normally, when a team takes a 7-4 beating on home ice it leaves them gasping, hurting and searching for answers.

Whatever momentum they had leading into that kind of public flogging bleeds away in a hurry.

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But that isn’t the case at all with the Edmonton Oilers in the wake of Thursday’s lopsided loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was actually one of the best 7-4 losses you will ever witness.

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The Oilers didn’t lose that game so much as Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stole it. Edmonton outshot the Lightning 15-7 in the first period, 23-7 in the second period and 19-10 in the third period for a 57-24 landslide total. Shot attempts were 90 to 43.

They also dominated on special teams, going 2-for-4 on the power play and scoring a shorthanded goal.

This wasn’t the Oilers curling up in the fetal position like Florida Panthers forward Nick Cousins, it was the same winning formula that earned them eight wins in a row. They just didn’t win.

A couple of soft goals against on Stuart Skinner and a pair of empty netters turned what should have been an easy two points into an implausible loss in just 13 minutes.

So, instead of a franchise-record tying ninth straight win, the Oilers are 8-1 in their last nine, which is still pretty solid.

“The vibe is really good in the locker room right now,” said forward Derek Ryan, after Edmonton’s optional skate Friday afternoon. “We’re playing great hockey, which helps. We’ve won some games and more importantly than that our game is going in the direction we want it to go.

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“There is some stuff we want to clean up but I think we played a really solid game (against Tampa). That’s hockey; it’s going to turn out like that sometimes. You have to trust the process, stick with it, clean up the things you want to clean up and move on from there.”

Nobody is shrugging off a game that would have lifted Edmonton into a tie for the final playoff spot, but there is a very big difference between the mood after Thursday’s loss and what life was like when the Oilers were stumbling along at 2-9-1.

“It’s hard to swallow any time you lose a game, whether it’s five in a row or whether you’ve won nine in a row,” said head coach Kris Knoblauch. “But there is a lot of confidence. The expectation now is to win every game. There is a strong feeling in the room that way. The guys were really disappointed, but it was a good frustration.

“There are some things we can alter a little bit but I love the execution, I love the work ethic. We’ll try and replicate that more.”

The Oilers made up a lot of ground with the eight-win run, undoing much of the damage from their disastrous start and moving to within striking distance of a playoff spot. They can take well-deserved pride in having fought their way back into the season, but they know better than anyone that losing focus, even for a couple of games, might put them right back in that hole.

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“It’s only December so there is a lot of hockey to be played, but we control all of our destiny at this point,” said Ryan. “The fact we’ve dug ourselves out of that huge hole is pretty remarkable and just speaks to the resilience of that group.

“We’ve been through a lot this year already and in the last couple of years as well. So confidence is high.”

“Being able to get eight in a row is a pretty tough thing to do in the NHL,” added Skinner. “We need to keep that mentality even though we lost a game. Whether it’s wins or losses we have to stay even keel, level headed and keep doing our best to win games. I know this group will do that.”

Having some breathing room instead of having to play from the edge of a cliff is nice, but the landscape changes quickly in the NHL. If things go sideways against Florida Saturday, suddenly the eight-game win streak is a two-game losing streak as they head out on the road for three-games in four nights in New York.

That IS the kind of thing that can siphon a team’s momentum.

“We’re always going to be forced to win games, there is always going to be that pressure,” said Knoblauch. “We wanted to make up some ground. Instead of being 15 points out of a playoff spot you’re only a couple.

“A couple of weeks ago it was almost a must-win game every night. Right now we’re not in a must-win situation, but we want to have the luxury of it being OK if we lose a game and I don’t think we’re nearly at that point.”

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