Fresh from a 6-2 waltz over the Anaheim Ducks Sunday and flirting with first place in the Western Conference, the Edmonton Oilers took to the ice against the San Jose Sharks Tuesday feeling pretty good about themselves. It showed.

They left a hat size or two smaller and with a little less strut in their step after a sloppy, loose and too-often indifferent effort in a 6-3 loss to the Sharks – it was a game they were chasing from the outset, one they never really gave themselves a chance to win.

Coach Dave Tippett called it exactly what it was, but resisted the urge to get carried away beyond that, which is one of the benefits of having an experienced hand at the wheel like him. The Oilers are 12-6-2 and way ahead of the pace anybody expected them to set through 20 games. What he and we saw Tuesday was a lesson delivered. Nothing more. Nothing less.


“I saw a team that was desperate and trying to get back in the race and a team that was content where they’re at,” Tippett said. “The desperate team usually wins those games. It shows a little bit the immaturity of the group to sustain things . . . we’re trying to become a real good team, but we’re not there yet.

“Real good teams go out and they, when all else fails, you can say they’re going to recognize the situation and go out and compete hard. We didn’t compete hard. We got out-competed by a desperate team Right through, right from the goaltender on out . . . it wasn’t a good effort by our group right through.”

I haven’t looked it up, but I’d be willing to bet you can count on one hand all the times the Oilers have gone into San Jose ahead of the Sharks in the standings after 19 games in the last 20 years. This game was one of them. While the Oilers had absolutely no reason to be over-confident based on that in the big picture, complacency can take some of the edge off. This looked like that, at least in the first 11:12 as the Sharks jumped ahead 3-0.

“We come out and we go down 3-0,” Darnell Nurse said. “We know this is a team that pushes hard in the first 10 minutes. In their own building, they always do. We didn’t answer the bell. It doesn’t matter what your record is.

“You don’t want to have games like this. We hold ourselves to a high standard . . . it’s not a game that we’re going to dwell on and carry into the next game, but there’s a lot of really good lessons we need to learn and pick it up coming back to home ice.”


The inability to find a way to match San Jose’s early push was the difference. Brent Burns was left alone and went top corner to make it 1-0. Evander Kane banged home a rebound on a shot Mike Smith couldn’t handle to make it 2-0. Patrick Marleau’s deflection made it 3-0 and the hole was dug. It got deeper when Barclay Goodrow made it 4-zip early in the second. Thanks for coming.

Fans who’ve been following this team through too many lean years don’t want to hear it, but games like this happen. The best teams, teams who contend, put games like this in the rear-view mirror in a hurry before things spiral. The Oilers have not shown that ability in recent seasons. One loss turns into two, then three. To this point this season, the Oilers haven’t lost more than two-in-a-row.

How they Oilers respond against Colorado Thursday and Dallas on Saturday will give us more of a measure about where this team as at than what we saw in San Jose. The Avalanche have won three in a row, sit two points back of the Oilers and they have two games in hand. Repeat Tuesday’s start and they’ll get run out of the rink.

Tippett expects his team to look far less “content” when the puck drops against the Avalanche, as should we. What I do know is this: Tippett always chooses his words carefully, and it’s no accident he chose that one to get his message across. Really good teams, teams that contend, don’t let a description like that slide.

Previously by Robin Brownlee