It was close, but not quite close enough. Final score: 2-1 Capitals.
Todd McLellan doesn’t generally mince his words after a loss. If he’s disappointed in his team he isn’t afraid to say so. So his measured reaction to Edmonton’s defeat on Friday is telling, and it should be said entirely appropriate under the circumstances:
It’s one of our 82. I think this morning I said if we played really well and left here we wouldn’t get too high and if we played poorly and left with a loss we couldn’t over-evaluate. We believe that we can play with the top teams in the league and we think that we can compete with them. Tonight on the road, in the middle of a long road trip, we played against a real good team and pushed them right to the end. We’ll take that. Unfortunately we didn’t get the points but we’ll move on.”
McLellan’s response is understandable. It was Edmonton’s third game in fourth nights. It came against the best team in the league, a team which has not lost a home game in 2017. It came without top defensive defenceman Adam Larsson vs. a foe that has scored 5-6 goals in 11 straight on home ice.
None of that changes the fact that the Oilers lost, or the difficulty they had generating quality chances. It’s merely helpful context. Edmonton is now 5-5-0 for February, and of the five times they’ve lost this was the least disappointing of the bunch.
This tough six-game road trip always looked to be a test. so far the Oilers are at 0.500 against some very decent opponents, and the challenge now is to finish on a winning note in games against Nashville on Sunday and St. Louis on Tuesday.
It isn’t shown on the highlight, but this one started on the Oilers breakout. Matt Benning retrieveed a Washington dump-in and whipped it around the boards to Patrick Maroon, who tipped it out to centre. Ex-Oiler Taylor Chorney then took the puck and fed it back to Wilson for another quick zone entry, this time one where Washington was able to gain the line with possession as Edmonton executed an ill-timed change.
Matt Benning had a tough night and wasn’t assertive enough here, but most of the time with a shot from that far out it wouldn’t matter. The only reason it did in this case was because an effective screen by Daniel Winnik prevented Talbot from picking up the shot in time to do anything about it.
The Oilers knotted the game 1-1 on their first shift of the second period. Connor McDavid lost the opening draw, but an effective attack by Leon Draisaitl resulted in Edmonton gaining possession almost right away. Kris Russell took advantage of some open ice, skating the puck out the defensive zone and then dumping it into Washington territory, a technique which can be remarkably effective at creating turnovers if Patrick Maroon happens to be thundering in on the opponent who retrieves the puck..
Although the immediate cause of the goal was Draisaitl jumping on a turnover, that’s the sort of thing that happens to a team that can keep pressure up in the offensive zone, as the Oilers did here. It took Draisaitl’s shot to finish off the play, but that pressure was a concerted effort by the entire McDavid line and the Andrej Sekera/Russell pairing.
Draisaitl undid some his fine work on Edmonton’s second goal here, when his neutral zone turnover allowed the Capitals to attack the Oilers zone with possession – again taking advantage of a line change to sneak in on the far side of the ice. Brandon Davidson also had a chance to regain the puck at one point during the cycle, but couldn’t get it under control and was quickly out-manned.
As for the goal itself, one would like to see Eric Gryba respond a bit more quickly to the presence of a shooter like Justin Williams. That’s also a pretty sharp angle for a goal against; as much as the puck was on a tee and Williams blistered it that’s not a goal Cam Talbot usually allows.
The loss keeps Edmonton from overtaking the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific division standings. Both Anaheim and San Jose have had underwhelming runs of late, but the Oilers’ own mediocre play over the last 10 games has kept them from taking advantage.
On the bright side, that isn’t likely to continue. After the final two games of this road trip, Edmonton will play its next eight games and 11 of 13 overall in March on home ice . If the Oilers are going to make a run at the division title this season, that’s when it will happen.