It’s been noted more than once this season that one of the strengths of the Edmonton Oilers is that they’ve usually bounced back from bad performances with good ones. They have avoided the kind of extended losing streaks – no more than two straight — that can put teams in trouble in a hurry. Fair enough.
It’s also fair to mention that, outside of bolting out of the gate with five straight wins, the Oilers haven’t managed to string together more than two straights wins since then. That’s something they’ve done four times since that five-game heater. They could have and should have made it five when they took on the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Place Wednesday, but they seized up after a very good first period on the way to a 5-2 loss.
So, what are we to make of the Oilers, who sit at 17-10-3 today as they get ready to face the Los Angeles Kings Friday in the second game of a four-game homestand? The Oilers have avoided the kind of downward spiral that kills playoff hopes. On the flip side, they haven’t put together a second roll to match the first. After starting at 7-1-0 and banking some points, they’re 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and they’ve coughed up points to teams they should beat – like the Senators, Kings, Red Wings and Wild.
The Oilers are good enough, we think, to beat also-rans like the Senators even without injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian, so injuries are no excuse. So, what gives? Wednesday, it was failure to finish despite a dominant first period, coupled with a rare (this season) bad game by Mikko Koskinen. Two goals in 12 seconds turned that game. In a 5-1 loss to the Kings back on Nov. 21, a slow start and Mike Smith allowing three goals on the first 12 shots he faced did them in.
THE LONG RUN
There are ebbs and flows to every season, and while fans around here have reason to be easily put-off and to feel like one too many bumps in the road means the team is headed for the ditch after so many years of futility, I don’t see it that way with this team. That’s not to tell anybody to keep quiet and relax – nobody ever does when you say that – because everything is fine.
At the same time, I’m not feeling the need to jump into trade talks to address shortcomings in the lineup that invariably come up after frustrating losses to teams like the Charlie Brown Senators or plan mass call-ups because the roster just isn’t good enough. Reading too much into losses like fans just witnessed against the sad sack Sens is just as bad an idea as putting too much into five-game win streaks to start the season.
Coach Dave Tippett has been around long enough to see both ends of that spectrum. He seldom gets carried away no matter which end of it he finds himself at. You won’t see Tippett handing out cigars and high-fiving until his hands ache after big wins or stretches when the team is rolling. Likewise, you won’t see Tippett throwing the guys he depends on under the bus when things go sideways, as they inevitably do. He knows the ebb and flow, and that’s a saving grace for a still developing team like this.
“We gave up two poor goals that got them in the game,” Tippett said of the game turning in a dozen seconds in the second period. “The high-end players have the biggest opportunity to make a difference, so when they don’t make good plays . . . the third goal, we had a group that had been on the ice for over a minute and we turn it over . . . we basically give up an easy two-on-one and an easy goal.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
No quotes of gold there. That’s the point. That third goal to make it 3-1 was part of a tough night for Oscar Klefbom and partner Adam Larsson, who both went minus-4. Both players knew what kind of game they had – neither one of them needed Tippett to go on and on about it or draw them a diagram for public consumption, and he didn’t.
From where I sit, that’s especially important for for a player like Larsson, who had his fibula busted in the first game of the season, missed 22 games and is seven games into trying to re-find his game. There is no question Larsson has struggled and there’s no question he knows it. There is no need for the coach to pile on. There are 52 games to go.
Even with Nugent-Hopkins and Kassian on the way back into the line-up, likely during this homestand, bet general manager Ken Holland is working the phones, contemplating upgrades, as he should. In the meantime, even allowing for how much losing to a team like the Senators sucks, Tippett is maintaining an even hand, refusing to get carried away – good or bad.
No team completely avoids the ebbs and flows that come during the course of a season. It’s how teams navigate them that separates winners and losers in the long game. That’s right in Tippett’s wheelhouse. No, the Oilers shouldn’t lose to teams like the Sens, but they did. No getting those points back. Get the next two.