There’s no debate Dave Tippett has raised the bar in terms of expectations in the 68 games he’s spent behind the bench as coach of the Edmonton Oilers. He didn’t let it slip after a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday to end a three-game road trip, and that’s a good thing.
With four points already in the bank on the swing from an 8-3 win over the Nashville Predators and a 2-1 OT decision over the Dallas Stars, Tippett wasn’t taking the easy way out after his Oilers stood around for most of the first 40 minutes against the weakest team they faced on the trip before putting on a push in the third period.
Four points is nothing to sneeze at on a three-game trip unless it should have been six, and that’s exactly the way the table was set when the Oilers blew into the Windy City. A dozen points ahead of the Blackhawks when the game began, the Oilers were second-best by a bunch for the first two periods. They looked a little bit too satisfied with themselves for my liking.
Yes, the Oilers were playing their fourth game in six nights. Yes, the Blackhawks are a desperate team playing to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. And, no, teams aren’t going to win every game they play. Sure. Tippett wasn’t having any of it last night, and neither were his players. That, too, is a good thing as the Oilers re-set for a four-game homestand.
“We didn’t play well enough the first two periods, pressed a little bit in the third, but dug too big of a hole,” Tippett said. “We need to recognize what we did at the start of the game. You can say you’re chasing it down 4-1 in the third period, but every team does that. I’m more concerned about what we did in periods one and two than what we did in three.” Full interview is here.
“We’re not going to win too many games like that,” Zack Kassian said. “The first couple of periods, if not for Smitty (Mike Smith), we’re probably down half a dozen. We just have to regroup. There are going to be highs and lows and we have to stay even keel. If we play the way we did in the third, we’re giving ourselves a chance to win every night. If we play the way we did in the first and second we’re not going to win many games.”
The Oilers were full marks for the win in Nashville even though Pekka Rinne couldn’t stop a beach ball, allowing eight goals on 31 shots (.741). They put the wood to the Predators in the third period, breaking a 3-3 tie with five consecutive goals. Then, they swiped two points in Dallas on the strength of a 42-save performance by Mikko Koskinen. While there’s no need for the Oilers to apologize for that, they had no reason to be as flat as they were in Chicago.
“Every team at this time of the year is desperate. That’s not an excuse,” said Leon Draisaitl, who added to his lead atop the NHL scoring race with a couple of assists. “If you want to be a playoff team, we have to beat this team. We have to regroup and be better next game.”
THE WAY AHEAD
There’s no need for prolonged moaning and groaning. Even after taking two-thirds of Thursday’s game off, the Oilers are sitting at 36-24-8 for 80 points as they prepare to face the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday. After that, the Vegas Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets and New York Islanders come calling. What we saw at the United Center was simply an opportunity and two points missed.
Tippett knows it. More important, his players know it. So, sure, four out of six points on the road isn’t bad, but I don’t expect the Oilers will look like a team that feels that way when the puck drops against the Blue Jackets. Expectations are higher these days, and it’s about time.