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Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t Lose the Plot

In seasons not so long ago when the Edmonton Oilers were a bad hockey team, I never cared for sifting through the ashes of another loss looking for consolation prizes or silver linings. Sure, there is usually a tidbit of good to be found if you look closely enough, but the bottom line is a loss is a loss.

I’m feeling very much the same way these days when it comes to criticizing wins by the Oilers. We’ve seen 11 after 14 games this season, the latest being a 5-4 decision over the St. Louis Blues in the Show Me State Sunday. Was it a perfect game? No. Have any of the 11 wins fallen into that category? No.

Are there issues? Of course there are. Just off the top of my head, the Oilers allow too many goals against 5-on-5, they’ve been guilty of too many slow starts and falling behind early, as they did against the Blues. Run the numbers, there’s more. Then, there’s a fixation by some about Marc-Andre Fleury because, well, Mike Smith is out and Mikko Koskinen, who is 9-1-0, and Stuart Skinner might not be good enough to get the job done. Sure.

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The old saying is the devil is in the details, and there is truth to that. But when a team is winning, those details, while worthy of attention so they don’t turn into something that impacts the bottom line, are sidebars. The big story, the one that matters most, is the Oilers are 11-3-0, flaws and all as they wrap up a five-game road swing against the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday.

WHAT THEY SAY

Nov 14, 2021; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) reacts after scoring the game winning goal against the St. Louis Blues during the third period at Enterprise Center.

Now, if you’re the person saying, “Aha! Sure, Koskinen is 9-1-0 but look at the goal-support he’s getting . . .” You’re the person I’m talking to. Whether it’s goal support for Koskinen, the outrageous pace Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on or a power play operating at 41.9 per cent and mitigating shortcomings, the Oilers, to repeat, are 11-3-0. I’ll take that record over hanging my hat on 5-on-5 scoring or Corski and Fenski with the team at, say, 3-11-0.

Yamamoto’s game-winner with 28 seconds left came on a feed from Draisaitl, who enjoyed his eighth game with three or more points this season. He’s stupid-hot with 15-16-31. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his first goal of the season to go with 17 assists. Ryan McLeod, looking to carve out a niche in the bottom six, made it 4-2 with this first career NHL goal. All this on a night the Oilers played poorly enough in stretches to lose.

“You walk out of it feeling good about a win. We found a way to win,” coach Dave Tippett said. “But whether we won or lost, there are things we have to continue to work at in our game. We’re giving up too many chances, and we’re giving up too many goals — especially at 5-on-5.

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“We’re happy to win. You’re happy for McLeod getting a goal, Nuge getting a goal, Yamo getting a big goal and an assist. He doubles his points output for the year. There is lots to be happy about, but we want to be a team that continues to get better. When there are spots in your game that need improvement, that’s what we’ve got to concentrate on.”

True enough. Like Tippett says, pay attention to the details. Tweak what needs to be improved before issues arise that put a dent in the story that matters most, that 11-3-0 record.

 “Kind of a mixed bag tonight,” said McDavid, who recorded his 600th point by scoring the 1-1 goal. “I thought our first (period) wasn’t great. Mikko held us in it, and I thought our second was real good and we deserved to be up. We gave it back to them, but I like the way we responded.”

At the bottom line, a loss is a loss and a win is a win, no? That’s always the big story.

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Previously by Robin Brownlee