You know it’s been a bad day when the television rights holder picks the play that saw your goaltender take a puck in the pills as one of its promotional highlights of the game. Even worse when it wasn’t a bad choice. So it went Sunday for the Edmonton Oilers on the way to a flat 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.
While Mike Smith returned from taking frozen rubber in the can late in the first period — the play was chosen as the hit of the game by Sportsnet’s Louie Debrusk — he gave up three goals in a span of 2:05 early in the second period and the Oilers were down 3-0 and chasing a game they’d never catch up in. They didn’t deserve to.
The jock shot aside, it was ugly. The Oilers, apparently feeling quite comfortable with a 8-2-1 record coming in, didn’t play with any urgency. They were outplayed early in the first period and didn’t register a shot for eight minutes. They were sloppy early in the second period as the Panthers chased Smith. They righted the ship somewhat when Mikko Koskinen came in, but then went down 4-0 when Evgenii Dadonov scored 49 seconds into the third.
That prompted a pronounced, “F*ck me,” from coach Dave Tippett on the bench. It was another game in which nothing much got done unless Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl did it. Another game in which Tippett’s bottom six forwards did nothing offensively. Riley Sheahan was minus-3. Jujhar Khaira, Patrick Russell and SAM GAGNER were all minus-2. F*ck me, indeed.
"It's a combination of work & execution. We chased the puck all over tonight & didn't execute very well."
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 27, 2019
“Frustrating,” Tippett said. “In the game we got out-competed. The execution, we just didn’t execute near to the level that Florida did. We chased the whole game. Our goaltending has been very good. Tonight, it was average and didn’t bail us out. We didn’t give the goaltenders much of a chance.”
No, they didn’t. While there were plenty of breakdowns, the most galling segment for me was watching Khaira casually glide over to Brian Boyle on the 2-0 goal. Lots of things went wrong leading up to the goal, but Khaira could have mitigated them with some hustle by putting Boyle on his backside. But no. He waltzed over in no particular hurry and waved at him.
A coach like Tippett can bite his tongue when it comes to the bottom six producing as little as Khaira and the rest have if they are on top of plays, hustling and not giving up anything going back the other way. That wasn’t the case against the Panthers. A coach can’t and won’t let too many games like that slide.
“It’s funny,” Tippett said. “When we’re ahead in the game, and those guys are really doing their job, they have a real mindset to check hard. They have an impact in the game. When you’re chasing the game, it’s harder for them. They haven’t contributed as much as they want, and I think there’s a lot of those guys feeling that pressure. We just keep pounding away at it.
“We’ve got to find something down there, at least create some opportunities. I really feel like once we get on the board and get going, I think everybody will loosen up a little bit, but right now you’ve got a lot of guys who are pressing down there.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
Tippett is obviously of the mind to employ the carrot rather than the stick right now while waiting for his bottom six to contribute offensively. He’s not ranting and raving. The leash, you can bet, will get shorter if the guys not scoring give up far more than they get, as was the case Sunday. That’s part of the deal on your depth lines. Break even, at worst, or something changes.
Like I’ve said before, I don’t think hauling up somebody from the minors — Kailer Yamamoto comes to mind — who is playing an offensive role and plugging him into the bottom six mix is the most desirable way to go. The Oilers aren’t grooming Yamamoto to be a bottom six guy. That’s not his wheelhouse. That said, Tippett can’t stand by indefinitely and watch a fast start evaporate because half his forwards can’t put the puck in the ocean.
It’s a fine line, and too many of Tippett’s forwards are tiptoeing along it rather dangerously right now.