When you’re constantly playing the game in chase mode, there’s no margin for error. The Edmonton Oilers got another lesson in that Sunday in a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Chasing opponents in games by falling behind when you’re already chasing a playoff spot in the big picture is a loser’s game – one the Oilers are playing far too often.
Already devoid of anything resembling offensive confidence in a four-game stretch that had seen them lose 5-0 to Winnipeg and Los Angeles and 5-1 to Dallas with a 2-1 shootout win over Anaheim in the mix, the Oilers gave up the first goal of the game for the 26th time this season against the Blackhawks, spotting them a 2-0 lead for good measure, on the way to dropping to 18-22-3.
The Oilers have won just seven of those 26 games. Right now, they don’t have the offensive wherewithal to constantly be playing from behind. As if giving up the 1-0 goal to Nick Schmaltz 8:03 into the game wasn’t bad enough, the Oilers were staring at a 2-0 deficit less than 10 minutes in when Alex DeBrincat banked a puck off the skate of Mark Letestu. The Oilers weren’t playing badly at that point in the game, but one unlucky bounce and it’s 2-0.
“You’ve got to work your way out of it,” said coach Todd McLellan, who put the trio of Pat Maroon, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl back to together to try and get something going during a stretch that has now seen the Oilers win just once in seven games. “When you’re not at the top of your game you’ve got to be more detailed. You’ve got to be positionally strong . . . you don’t take the easy way out of the crap. You work your way out.”
NOT EVEN CLOSE
The truth is, the Oilers haven’t even been close to finding a way to get points in far too many of their games this season. The loss to Chicago marked the 12th time in 43 games this season the Oilers have lost by three-or-more goals – that’s something they’ve done in each of their last four losses. The Oilers lost by three-or-more goals just seven times in 2016-17.
While some fans might point to that dozen not-even-close games as proof McLellan has lost the room – I don’t think that’s the case but I wouldn’t be my life on it – I think it’s more of a reflection, at least in part, of the job GM Pete Chiarelli has done building this team, or hasn’t done if you prefer to frame it that way. In those dozen games, by the way, the Oilers have been outscored 61-14.
Coming into the season, I thought the blueline would be fine, even with Andrej Sekera recovering from knee surgery. I thought right wing would be OK, even with the downgrade from Jordan Eberle to Ryan Strome in a salary dump. Well, between Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson having sub-par seasons, Sekera struggling to regain his form and a right side that hasn’t produced enough, it hasn’t worked out. It seems I (and many others), like Chiarelli, under-estimated potential issues at both positions.
THE BLUE PAINT
The Oilers lost the goaltending battle, again, Sunday as Chicago’s Anton Forsberg stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced while Cam Talbot allowed four goals on 29 shots. It’s yet another instance of the Oilers being beaten by a back-up goaltender. That’s not to hang everything on Talbot, but he’s playing nowhere near as well as he did last season.
In Talbot’s last five appearances – coinciding with a time when the team in front of him hasn’t been able to hit the broad side of a barn to save its life — he’s been below the .900 mark in save-percentage four times. Talbot was .862 Sunday following games of .789, .971, .848 and .868. On the season, Talbot sits at .902. You don’t have a chance to win games with a save-percentage like that.
FOUND A HOME
It looks like Jordan Oesterle, who played 25 games for the Oilers over parts of three seasons but was cut loose by Chiarelli last July, has found a home on Chicago’s blueline alongside Duncan Keith. Oesterle, who scored his first NHL goal against the Oilers back on Dec. 29, scored the 4-1 goal Sunday. He’s tallied 3-5-8 through 16 games this season.