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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: With the going getting tough, the Oilers need to get going

A tough, tight north division is only getting tougher, and tighter, to play in.

The Oilers got a taste of that last night with a new-look Calgary Flames who handed the visiting Edmonton club a 4-3 loss. It wasn’t for lack of effort, however, as the Oilers fought and clawed all night long to keep themselves in the game.

Down early, Edmonton was able to come back and tie the game up, but it just wasn’t enough. Jujhar Khaira went down in the first period after appearing to be knocked out by Brett Ritchie in a fight, while Tyson Barrie, too, left the game with what head coach Dave Tippett called an upper-body injury.

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With two of their top contributors as of late out of the lineup, the bench shortened and the push was on. Edmonton got their chances, plenty of them, but Calgary made the most out of the ones they had. Welcome to the game of bounces.

The truth of the matter is that this division is only getting tougher to play in. Those Flames everyone saw last night looked a lot different than they did 10 days ago. They’re playing harder on pucks, and not shying away from the low-event hockey that Darryl Sutter is known for. Edmonton only fired 52 shot attempts the way of Jacob Markstrom, a drop of 18 from their Saturday night game against the Canucks.

And Saturday Edmonton got that taste of tough bounces, too. Thatcher Demko has been on a tear for them as Vancouver looks to claw back into the playoff hunt. Don’t get me started for another tough team in the Winnipeg Jets, of whom the Oilers have a two game set against at the end of the week. They’re a scrappy team that’s as much in the hunt for the first spot in the North Division as Edmonton and Toronto are.

Edmonton has a chance to get the two points back Wednesday, before continuing a packed stretch with the Jets visiting Edmonton Thursday and Saturday.

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The first half of the season is dead and gone now, and the Oilers need to be ready for the games to get even tougher. They’ve only got 25 games left before the playoff schedule is set. Now, it’s crunch time.

Backhanders…

  • Leading the analytics charge last night was… KRIS RUSSELL?! Color me surprised as I thought there were a few times he was caught flat footed. At 5×5, he posted a 60 CF% and a 86.41 xGF%. Solid showing from him.
  • Ethan Bear’s pinch on the Flames fourth goal was tough, but that’s a moment where the Oilers could really have used a save from Mike Smith. Even with a glaring mistake there, he posted a 61.12 CF% and a 64.46 xGF% at 5×5. While he may not have passed the eye test, the numbers say he had a strong showing.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]