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Photo Credit: © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Highlights and Numbers: The Oilers couldn’t pull themselves out of the hole they dug in Detroit

Stuart Skinner made his first start in the NHL since January 31 and the Oilers certainly didn’t make life easy for him.

Just like on Friday night, the Oilers didn’t show up to their game against the Red Wings until about halfway through. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to climb out of the hole they had dug for themselves this time around.

Skinner certainly gave Edmonton a chance to win, as he stopped 35 of the 38 shots Detroit threw on net, but, outside of a late second-period goal and an early third-period tally, Edmonton couldn’t solve Alex Nedeljkovic on the other side.

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This game serves as an important lesson for the Oilers that you need to put forward a full, 60-minute effort because you won’t always be able to pull off a late-game rally, even against a mediocre opponent like the Red Wings.

What happened…

The Oilers came out completely flat and Detroit controlled play for the majority of the first period, peppering Skinner with shots. The Red Wings finally broke through with about six minutes to go in the first frame, frustratingly right after Edmonton had a scoring opportunity in Detroit’s end.

Slater Koekkoek pinched to try to keep a puck in the Red Wings’ zone but he wound up throwing it into the middle of the zone where it was picked up by Sam Gagner. Gagner fed the puck to Vladislav Namestnikov who busted up ice, drove past Tyson Barrie, and roofed a shot over Skinner.

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From Koekkoek’s poor pinch to Barrie trying to defend while on his knees, this was a horrendous sequence from Edmonton’s third defensive pairing.

Detroit extended their lead to 2-0 a few minutes into the second period.

Adam Erne carried the puck deep into Edmonton’s zone and managed to get a pass off to Filip Hronek at the point despite only having one hand on his stick. Hronek fired a wrist shot on goal that was deflected by Michael Rasmussen to Namestnikov who buried his second goal of the game.

There’s a whole lot of puck-watching going on by the Oilers throughout this play. Hronek has all the time in the world to get a well-placed shot away and Namestnikov is able to just slide behind Edmonton’s defence and tap the puck into the open net without much trouble. This is just the Oilers being lazy in their own zone. Not much Skinner can do here.

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Skinner was largely excellent on Tuesday night, and I wouldn’t blame him for either of the first two goals that Detroit scored, but this third one gave me Ty Conklin flashbacks. Given the many great saves that Skinner made, we can give him a mulligan here.

Just like against the Rangers on Friday, it was Jesse Puljujarvi who got Edmonton’s comeback effort moving.

Slater Koekkoek went down to block a pass in Edmonton’s zone and it bounced out to the high slot, where Puljujarvi grabbed it and started ripping up ice. Puljujarvi broke away from Detroit’s defenders and sniped a shot on Nedeljkovic’s glove side.

There isn’t much more you need to say about this other than wow, Jesse Puljujarvi has become a very, very good player. The positioning in his own zone, the wheels to simply outskate Detroit’s defenders, and the perfect shot while in stride. Excellent stuff from the big Finn.

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A few seconds into the third period, Connor McDavid got the Oilers to within one goal.

Darnell Nurse broke the puck out of his own zone and hit McDavid with a cross-ice pass just ahead of the blueline. He quickly turned on his engine, blew past Detroit’s defender, and sniped a perfect shot through Nedeljkovic’s five-hole.

The Oilers really put the pressure on Detroit in the third period but Nedeljkovic slammed the door and spoiled Edmonton’s comeback effort. One of Edmonton’s best chances came when Zach Hyman was sprung in on a breakaway and Nedeljkovic did his best Dominik Hasek impression.

The Wings would end up scoring an empty-net goal and winning the game by a score of 4-2.

One more highlight to mention before moving on is this play early in the first period. Zack Kassian went in for a hit on Moritz Seider but the rookie dodged the check and Kassian wound up falling awkwardly into the boards. He played one more shift after this one and wound up leaving the game with what’s being called a lower-body injury.

By the numbers…

The shot-attempt chart shows exactly what everyone’s eyes told them about this game, which is that the Oilers didn’t show up until it was half-finished.

The Red Wings dominated in the first frame, beating Edmonton 24-to-16 in terms of shot attempts and hammering them 15-to-3 in terms of high-danger chances. The fact the Oilers skated out of the first only down by one goal is a testament to the strong game that Skinner played between the pipes.

In the second period, the Oilers tightened things up. They still got outshot 17-to-11 at even-strength, but they only allowed the Red Wings to generate five high-danger chances, which was an improvement on the incredibly sloppy, low-energy effort that they put forward in the first period.

Finally, in the third, the ice tilted in Edmonton’s favour as they woke up and the Red Wings moved into more of a defensive shell. The Oilers dominated in terms of shot attempts, going 19-to-9, but the Red Wings were able to largely keep things tight in their own zone, as they only allowed Edmonton to get five high-danger chances in the frame. And, aside from the McDavid goal, which was one he would surely like to have back, Nedeljkovic was great when he needed to be in the third.

There really wasn’t all that much to like about this game.

Skinner was strong in net despite his gaffe that led to the third goal, and the top line, which featured McDavid, Puljujarvi, and either Hyman or Leon Draisaitl, was effective as usual. But, outside of that, Edmonton simply didn’t look good.

The team struggled to get much going offensively when anybody other than the McDavid line was playing. They’re now being outscored 12-to-5 at even-strength while McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins aren’t on the ice. This is far from a unique take but Edmonton needs more from their bottom six. They also needed more from their second line on Tuesday in Detroit.

The blueline was also a mess. The Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci played a solid low-event game, but Edmonton’s other two pairs struggled. The Koekkoek and Barrie pairing got caved in and the top pairing of Nurse and Bouchard also had multiple gaffes and ugly sequences in the defensive zone.

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