No bueno. Final Score: 5-2 Penguins
Normally, when the Oilers and Pens match up, all eyes are on Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby as the two superstars tend to crank up their level of play whenever they match up head-to-head. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see the generational battle tonight as Crosby remains out with an injury, which is obviously an advantage for the Oilers until you see the kind of heater that Gino Malkin is on and how resilient the Penguins have been in his absence. My point here is that even with a couple of major injuries on their roster, Crosby hasn’t played since November 9th against the Blackhawks and Hornqvist has been out since the beginning of the month, the Penguins’ depth keeps finding ways to win and that’s going to be a major challenge for our boys tonight. Not only would they need Mike Smith to provide his first sound bit of goaltending in a while, something he’s struggled with mightily over the last little month, but they’d also need to win the depth battles as the Penguins tend to generate quite a bit more offence from the bottom half of their roster.
With an injury-depleted lineup and the miles from a Western Canadian road trip hopefully slowing them down, I was looking for the Oilers to get off to a quick start that would set them up for success against a Penguins team that hasn’t been kind to them historically. If they could pop a quick goal early then I felt like they’d have a very good chance to win. Unfortunately, it was the Penguins that got the early goals despite the fact that the Oilers generated their fair share of offensive opportunities. It’s just that, once again, they couldn’t get the saves they needed and found themselves down by a pair before they knew it. Being down by two goals before the game is a period old is a tough way to win games in this league, especially against a team playing as well as the Penguins. As the game moved through the second period, the Oilers did a fine job of keeping their feet moving and attacking the offensive zone with waves of pressure until finally, they were finally able to beat Jarry. And even when the Penguins added a third goal (their second on a breakaway btw), our boys stuck to their game plan and kept chipping away, eventually finding the back of the net for the second time in the dying seconds with their first shorthanded marker of the season.
Heading into the third period down by a goal, the Oilers were not only going to have to keep the pressure coming but they were also going to need a save or two that would allow for the comeback to continue. Unfortunately, that second part of the equation just wasn’t in the cards and the Oilers were unable to outscore their mistakes. At the end of the day, Edmonton probably played well enough to get a point or more but it’s tough to win at this level when you have to put six goals up on the board, ya know? Such is life as an Oilers fan, I guess. *sigh*
THE BRIGHT SIDE
- Zack Kassian got the Oilers on the board and back to within a single goal with a perfectly placed deflection that beat Jarry high over the glove hand. The goal happened after Darnell Nurse fired the point shot towards the net, right where Kassian was parked and ready to get his stick on the puck. With the goal, Kassian now has four goals in his last six games.
- How big was Riley Sheahan’s shorthanded goal (3-2) at the end of the second period? After Josh Archibald intercepted a pass at the Oilers blue line, both he and Sheahan bolted the other way and created a mini odd-man rush that they cashed in perfectly. We all know that the Oilers hadn’t had a shortie all season long, and I could not think of a better time to get their first than when they were down by two goals with under a minute to go in the period.
- I actually liked a lot that the Oilers did tonight save for the disastrous performance in net, and I honestly believe that they played well enough to get at least a point.
- Shout out to Josh Archibald for his first assist as an Oiler that came on the Sheahan shortie.
- I liked Caleb Jones’ game tonight and thought that he moved the puck well, was strong defensively, had three shots on goal, and played some effective minutes on the third pairing.
- Oilers outshot the Penguins 28-26. Yeah, I’m just reaching for bright sides now. I know.
- At least Koskinen plays tomorrow.
THE FACE PALMERS
- Chad Ruhwedel opened the scoring (1-0) for the Penguins after a point shot found its way through a heavy screen, deflected a time or two, and made its way past Mike Smith, crawling over the line for tough goal against.
- File Joseph Blandisi’s goal in the ‘unlucky’ folder as he made it 2-0 for the Penguins after stepping out of the penalty box at the perfect time and found himself on a breakaway that Mike Smith could not deny. Now, I’m not hanging this goal on Smith, if anything Blandisi made a nice move for the finish, but it was a horrible but of the luck that the Oilers just didn’t need at that moment.
- Jared McCann restored the Penguins two-goal lead (3-1) with nearly a carbon copy of Blandisi’s breakaway goal after Ethan Bear mishandled the puck (not a great pass by Nurse, though) and the Penguins turned it around the other way.
- Like a kick to the shins, Kris Letang halted the comeback with Pittsburgh’s fourth goal of the night (4-2), this one coming on the power play after he tattooed a cross-ice pass that beat Smith and restored the two-goal deficit.
- With only a few minutes left to play, Brandon Tanev added an empty netter to make it a 5-2 games and put the final nail in the Oilers’ coffin.
- The Oilers really needed their power play to come through with a goal tonight (0/2), but rather than looking like the lethal entity it has been all season, the PP looked more like it was a group of guys that had hardly ever worked together before. I don’t know how many more tricks Glen Gulutzan has in his bag, but we’re going to need to do better than continuously looking for that cross-ice pass that’s getting picked off all the time.
- Not to be outdone, the PK allowed a goal on the lone chance they faced, though, to be fair, the penalty killers did produce more goals than the power play did.
- Mike Smith was back between the pipes for the first time in a week, and I was very intrigued to see how he’d handle the high-flying Pens. Back in November, Smith stood on his head when these two teams last met and basically stole that game for them, and I was hoping that the veteran netminder would be able to come up with a repeat performance. Dare to dream? I guess so, huh? Once again, this was not Mike Smith’s night as he got tagged for four goals on 25 shots, finishing the night with a .840 save%. I should also point out that I’m not saying that all of the goals were Smith’s fault, they really weren’t, but it would certainly be nice if your goalie could give you a save every now and then. I don’t know how much more leash Ken Holland has for his backup goalie, but I hope he’s been working the phones just in case.
- Oilers won only 45% of the faceoffs today. That’s not horrible, but certainly not spectacular either.
|07:56||Pittsburgh||Chad Ruhwedel (2) ASST: Dominik Kahun (11), Zach Aston-Reese (4)||1-0|
|12:56||Pittsburgh||Joseph Blandisi (2) ASST: Zach Aston-Reese (5), Marcus Pettersson (11)||2-0|
|06:41||Edmonton||Zack Kassian (13) ASST: Darnell Nurse (16), Ethan Bear (7)||2-1|
|15:38||Pittsburgh||Jared McCann (10)||3-1|
|19:37||Edmonton||SHG – Riley Sheahan (2) ASST: Josh Archibald (1)||3-2|
|00:38||Pittsburgh||PPG – Kris Letang (9) ASST: Evgeni Malkin (21), Bryan Rust (12)||4-2|
|17:41||Pittsburgh||EN – Brandon Tanev (7) ASST: Marcus Pettersson (12), Teddy Blueger (6)||5-2|
Crosby FEARS McDavid
— Real Steal 18 (@RPW_1832) December 20, 2019
— Robin Brownlee (@Robin_Brownlee) December 21, 2019
Smith didn’t want to get that sweet gear scuffed with puck marks, I can respect that pic.twitter.com/kcUIDcD539
— MrSmith (@IIMrSmithII) December 21, 2019
Apropos of nothing, I believe if Mike Smith plays in another game after this one, he gets a $125,000 bonus. He gets $125K for every 5 games played after that one up to game 40, where it increases.
— WheatNOil (@WheatNOil) December 21, 2019
The Oilers should just quit for the night and save energy for tomorrow. They can't outscore Smith
— Dennis King (@DKingBH) December 21, 2019
— Ryan Wallace (@76RAWallace) December 21, 2019
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