After Edmonton played its best hockey of the season last Sunday, manhandling the Calgary Flames in a storybook Heritage Classic, you couldn’t help wondering what the Oilers would do next.
Had they found the missing spark that turns their season around or was it simply 55,000 fans in an outdoor stadium providing a temporary adrenaline shot? How much stock do you put in taking down a Flames team that is currently collapsing under the weight of a six-game losing streak?
When a team is 2-5-1, you can’t blame people for wanting a little more evidence before proclaiming that the Oilers are back, or even pointed in the right direction.
Well, with their confidence restored and with a blueprint for success, they got their first chance to take that same effort indoors, jump on the tired Dallas Stars and start making up for lost time.
That THUD you heard was the sound of the Oilers not doing that.
Once again, Jay Woodcroft’s crew walked out of Rogers Place on the wrong end of just about everything as they suffered an inexplicable 4-3 defeat to fall even deeper into the abyss.
“We’re disappointed we lost the game,” said Woodcroft, whose team dug a 4-1 hole through 50 minutes before Sam Gagner scored twice to make it close.
“When you spot a good team a lead like you usually don’t end up on the right side of it.”
The Oilers scored enough to win when they finally got around to finishing their chances but, once again, they gave up too many easy ones the other way. They served up two goals on three-on-ones and another on a two-on-one.
“We worked, we played a good hockey game in a lot of ways, but these big mistakes, we can’t continue to make,” sighed winger Evander Kane.
“It’s got to stop. We got some pucks to the net in the third period and scored some goals, but we can’t expect to score four or five goals every night to win hockey games. It’s not realistic.”
Edmonton is now 2-6-1 through nine games and sits 14th out of 16 teams in a Western Conference that is already leaving them behind.
“Our record isn’t where we want it to be right now,” said forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “We know where we are at. We’re trying to find any means necessary to find the back of the net right now and we came up one short.
“We played overall a pretty good game, we just didn’t come out with the win. We can’t get frustrated.
The Oilers and Stars came into this game at opposite ends of the energy spectrum, with Dallas playing the second of back-to-back games and the third in three nights while the Oilers had almost four full days of rest since Sunday’s outdoor game. And the schedule meant the visitors dressed their backup goalie Scott Wedgewood.
But that didn’t seem to matter much. Dallas had every bit as much spring in its step as Edmonton did, which is baffling in itself.
Sam Gagner hit the ice for the start of his third tour of duty with the Oilers. He brought down the house in the third period, scoring to cut the Dallas lead to 4-2 and then again three minutes later to make it 4-3, but Edmonton couldn’t complete the storybook ending.
With the game on the line in the final minute and change and Edmonton’s net empty, Gagner didn’t see the ice.
“He was next player up for us but we didn’t get a whistle or an opportunity because we were in the offensive zone,” said Woodcroft. “He played a very good game for us. It’s a lesson for guys who haven’t scored in a long time to see where Sam had his offensive success tonight in the blue-paint. Credit to him.”
It was a great debut, too bad about the ending.
“A couple of mistakes got magnified, but I thought for the most part we drove play,” said Gagner. “It was just a matter of having that intensity throughout the game to bear down on certain things to happen. I think there is a lot to like and build off of and we just have to keep pushing forward.”
• There was some bad news for Edmonton when forward Connor Brown left the game midway through the second period with an undisclosed non-contact injury.
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