Apparently unable to grasp the concept that points in November are just as valuable as those fought for during the hair-on-fire stretch drive days of March and April, the Edmonton Oilers blew off a deuce they might need in their 5–4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Down 2–0 only to battle back like champs with four straight goals for a 4–2 lead at Nationwide Arena in a game that could’ve stretched their winning streak to three games, the Oilers made like discount lawn furniture in a wind storm by giving up three goals in the final 16 minutes.
In a blown sugar situation I’ve seen more times than I can count on all my fingers and toes in the past three seasons, the Oilers had the perfect opportunity to improve to 7-4-1 after wins in Carolina and Philadelphia, but no, not so fast.
And, should the Oilers end up with bite marks on their backsides 70 games from now if it’s close-but-no-cigar for a Western Conference playoff spot for a third straight season, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.
Let Craig MacTavish tell it.
“Just a sloppy game from the outset,” MacTavish said. “It looked like we had it under control in the third period when it was 4–2, then it was just a speed track to our net.
“When you see games like that as many times as I’ve seen them over whatever-odd years, you know what the result is going to be. Sure enough, it happened.”
How did they do that?
The Oilers had everything going for them when they filed into Nationwide Arena with, you’d think, momentum on their side after putting an end to their five-game losing streak with a pair of wins.
— The Oilers were as well-rested as they could expect to be thanks to two days off after back-to-back games in Raleigh-Durham and Philly.
— While they might dress in the visitors’ room in Columbus, the Oilers rolled into town with a 4-1-1 record in their last six visits to Ken Hitchcock’s stomping grounds.
Visiting writers love Columbus because the Blue Jackets actually give them a luxury suite to work and write in during games. The Jackets, as the Oilers record indicates, are equally gracious hosts down at ice level.
— Aside from struggling to generate offence, the Blue Jackets came into the game with a couple of their key players, Raffi Torres and Fredrik Modin, just back from injuries.
— With Pascal Leclaire nursing a bum ankle and Fredrik Norrena incapable of stopping a beach ball, Hitchcock put 20-year-old rookie Steve Mason between the pipes for his first NHL start.
So, the Oilers play like horse manure early, then trot out a time-tested tease by making like gangbusters.
They kill off a 5-on-3. They roar back with goals by Andrew Cogliano, Ethan Moreau, Ales Hemsky and Kyle Brodziak. Then, stop the presses, they take the old pipe late on goals by RJ Umberger, Modin and noted sniper Manny Malhotra. No excuses for it. None. Nada. Zero.
No consolation point. Just a short and, I can tell you from experience, quiet flight to Pittsburgh for a date with the Penguins knowing they gave back two of the points they pilfered from a misleading 4–0 start.
“It’s not only the fact that it’s disappointing to lose a game that you’re leading by two goals, it’s in the fashion you lose the game,” MacTavish said.
“That speaks to inexperience. It speaks to our collective gamesmanship as a team right now. It’s a painful, painful lesson. There’s a right way to play this game and a wrong way to play it.
“We got on the wrong side of it early, but it looked like we were going to get away with it, but we didn’t… the thing I said at the end of the second period is, ‘Let’s just go out there and have a good third period and not be sitting on a bunch of regret.’ We’re sitting on a mountain of regret right now and we’ve got to get over it.”
Regret? Wait until April.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.