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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: Too many passengers leaves the Oilers on the ropes

The vivacious glow of a monumental comeback slipped from the Edmonton Oilers’ grasp as quickly as it arrived.

And on another night where they needed to put their best foot forward, they instead clipped their own boot falling flat on their face — on home ice, no less. By the end of 61:12, the Oilers were watching the LA Kings flood their own ice celebrating a 5-4 win while taking a 3-2 stranglehold on the series.

It took LA all of 3:53 in the game to suck the life out of Rogers Place, and nearly two full periods later, a brush of it returned.

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“We didn’t have enough people going early,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft on a night of high highs, and some low lows. “We made a game of it, but essentially we chased the game from the opening puck drop.”

That’s putting it lightly.

In reality, it was another night where there were too few drivers and too many passengers. Connor McDavid was the true driver of the bus. He was on another level scoring one goal and two assists in what might’ve been the best game of his career. He took over the game and elevated those around him. Magical stuff, to be honest.

But truth be told, it’s the passengers who cost the Oilers the game. Like Duncan Keith, the $5.5-million man who heard footsteps in the second period and appeared too scared to take a body check to make a play. The result? Adrian Kempe banking a shot off Keith’s stick coming back the other way finding the back of the net.

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His play on the Kings’ game-winning goal was no better. A panicked dump of the puck was beyond forwards Zach Hyman and Evander Kane and all of four seconds later, he was caught out of position only to be turnstiled by Kempe, who once again capitalized on a blunder driving wide on Mike Smith.

While Smith surely would’ve loved to have a few back — especially the 3-1 goal he watched go in while lying on his stomach — the Oilers as a whole were a letdown despite Woodcroft’s attempts at mixing things up with new-look lines before the game.

“They scored four last game and five this game. That’s nine over the last two games. We scored four tonight,” said Woodcroft, confirming what we all know in “that should be enough to win a game.

“There’s something we can tighten up. I thought we turned some pucks over tonight that ended up coming back the other way. I think we were a little bit slow in dzone coverage when normally we’re fast and physical. In the last two games, there’s certainly things we can tighten up.”

Not only will cleaning up those defensive deficiencies be key but so will the Oilers’ play transitioning the puck. Playing a drag-you-down 1-3-1, the Kings have been effective in games four and five in doing just that, eliminating the Oilers’ speed through the neutral zone. An inability to adjust, not only in-game, but between games when it comes to their starts, has cost them.

All in all, guys like Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and others — all of whom have struggled in these playoffs — will need to elevate their game come Thursday.

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“The answer lies in the room. We have to come out a little harder,” said Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers’ slow starts. “We have to come out with our skating legs underneath us. We haven’t had that the last couple games, not any games really in the series. We’re looking to do that in two days.

I think this is on us. We’re not playing to our standard. We’re not working to our standard and that starts with my line. We have to be a lot better.”

Now, the Oilers have to head to LA on Thursday to prove they’ve learned their lesson. If not, it’s going to be a long off-season in Oil Country.


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]com.