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Sam Gagner wins in an Edmonton Oilers loss

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Photo credit:Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Liam Horrobin
3 months ago
For a team that has elite talent like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who would’ve thought a 34-year-old Sam Gagner, who recently recovered from double hip surgery, would be the one to lead a third-period comeback attempt?
Is it a good thing? Probably not, but Rogers Place was buzzing for the first time this season after seeing Gagner plough his way through the Stars to find a loose puck to score. It was an effort that fans haven’t seen from an Oilers player much this season, unfortunately, but hopefully, it can be an infection that spreads through the team.
Admittedly, I had my doubts about Gagner’s return to the NHL. It was a bit premature, considering he had only played three games in the American Hockey League for the Bakersfield Condors. The footspeed worried me, but I needed to consider that Gagner is a far more intelligent hockey player than I gave credit for. Last night, he proved you don’t need to be the quickest player on the ice but one that wants to play for the logo on the jersey.
The Edmonton Oilers were alright in that 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars. Evan Bouchard hit the post three times, Nugent-Hopkins missed an open net, and Warren Foegele missed on yet another breakaway opportunity. The chances were there, but they couldn’t capitalize in the moment.
They needed more defensive awareness, with two goals coming from bad decisions made by a veteran and inexperienced defenceman. Cody Ceci can’t be making that pinch for a puck that, in reality, isn’t up for grabs. On top of that, Stuart Skinner needs to make a stop there. It’s a dangerous chance, but Darnell Nurse plays it well, eliminating the pass and allowing Skinner to focus only on the shooter, Matt Duchene, who beat him clean under the pad.
The Broberg mistake is brutal, but the play leading up to the error was good. It showed that he’s playing with confidence and feels comfortable enough to make a play with the puck. The evident and unfortunate part was the end product from him and that it resulted in a Stars goal. Errors will occur with young defencemen, and it’s something that needs to be lived with. Broberg needs to be more alert at the moment and recover from his mistake, but instead, he hesitates on a change before realizing he left Nurse alone against three Dallas forwards.
The part that people need to talk about, though, is Jay Woodcroft’s decision. Last Tuesday, we watched Evan Bouchard’s errors lead to three goals against the Minnesota Wild, yet he was out there the next shift. After Broberg’s error, he sat on the bench the rest of the night, playing only 4:44. Obviously, Bouchard brings more to the game than Broberg does right now, but you have other defencemen replace Bouchard for a shift or two.
Additionally, players need to be rewarded, too. Last night, Gagner didn’t see the ice in the final minutes when Skinner was pulled. Why? Gagner and Kane were the best two forwards and the only two that earned that opportunity. It doesn’t matter that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored 100 points last season or that Zach Hyman scored 30 goals; in that moment, you need to go with the hot hand, which was those two goals. On top of that, against the Wild, Warren Foegele scored a pair of goals and barely saw the ice in the final moments. He stepped onto the ice as the Wild scored an empty net goal with just over three to play and then again with under 20 seconds to go. Woodcroft needs to be better in these situations and show more trust in his players.  
If the Oilers night couldn’t get much worse from that point, the Stars powerplay, which is 8.7% this season, scored a goal. Granted, it was a good play from Joe Pavelski to tip the puck away from Nurse. However, it felt like the cherry on top.
Overall, the Oilers should’ve won that game. Puck luck wasn’t on their side, but sometimes you’ve got to make it for yourself. Gagner did that with his two goals by causing a little chaos. The Oilers need more from many players throughout their lineup. It’s fair to excuse McDavid, who is clearly still recovering from the injury that kept him out last week. However, the rest need to step up.
There’s no sugarcoating it. There are glaring holes in this team at the moment. The bottom five can’t score, they make multiple errors defensively a game and the goaltending won’t make saves when they need it the most. The good news is that it’s November 3rd, and we all truly know that they’re better than they are showing. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, they will turn things around because otherwise, we might have a different conversation the next time we speak.

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