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More What-Ifs Than Results

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Photo credit:Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
5 months ago
It’s not very often — like almost never – you’ll hear a team talk about what could have happened, should have happened or would have happened after they win. Sure enough, we heard more of that talk from the Edmonton Oilers in the wake of a third straight loss Tuesday, this time by a 3-1 score to the New York Islanders.
Beaten 7-4 by Tampa Bay last Thursday in a game they could’ve won with better finish to begin this skid after eight straight wins, the Oilers took an early lead on the Islanders on a goal by Leon Draisaitl. Had they put another puck or two behind Ilya Sorokin, who knows? But as was the case against Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Bolts, it wasn’t to be.
The Oilers instead spit the bit on special teams. They didn’t get a sniff in four attempts against New York’s feeble PK, ranked dead-last, and they gave up a shorthanded goal. The Oilers allowed two power-play goals. When you lose the special teams match-up that badly, what could’ve happened or should’ve happened takes a back seat in a hurry.
“You look at our winning streak during the eight games and we never lost a special teams battle, and it so often comes down to that,” coach Kris Knoblauch said. “I thought five-on-five we out-chanced them, spent a lot of time in the offensive zone. This was one of the nights where we got beat on the special teams, which doesn’t usually happen.”

WHAT THEY SAY

Dec 19, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Mike Reilly (2) fights for the puck against Edmonton Oilers left wing Evander Kane (91) during the third period at UBS Arena.
So it goes for the Oilers, who will face the New Jersey Devils Thursday having given back much of what they gained during the eight-game winning streak. As of today, they’ve endured a pair of three-game losing streaks to go with two four-game skids through their first 29 games. If that’s not the definition of running in place, I don’t know what is.
“We can control what we can control and that’s the next game,” said Knoblauch. “It’s disappointing. We certainly could have had two of our last three, and I think the next two games are going to be very difficult for us. But certainly, we can put this game behind us and get ready for New Jersey.”
Aside from the swing on special teams, this wasn’t an awful performance by the Oilers, but that’s faint praise. Stuart Skinner lost the handle on the puck on the 1-0 goal by Anders Lee. Connor McDavid made like Connor Brown, going without a point to end his 12-game points streak. Same for Zach Hyman, Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Bupkis. In the end, the Islanders were more diligent. They banged some, they blocked more shots.
“As much as tonight is no fun and it sucks, we’ve got to turn the page quickly and move on,” said Mattias Ekholm, who led the Oilers with five shots. “We have two more games before Christmas and those are crucial games for us.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

The best the Oilers, now 13-15-1, can do by the Christmas break is get back to .500. That’ll take wins over the Devils, who they beat handily 4-1 10 days ago, and the New York Rangers, the top dogs in the Eastern Conference. 

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