The Day After +8.0: Oilers playing scared to lose

Edmonton Oilers Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
Inside Rogers Place, you could feel the tension in the air Sunday night. 
Two teams are entrenched in a rivalry transitioning from the regular season to the playoffs: one with nothing to lose and one with everything to lose. 
The problem for the Edmonton Oilers is that they’ve played scared to lose. There’s no jump. There’s no fire. There’s nothing but the feeling that they couldn’t make a mistake.
When you play that way in the NHL, nothing goes your way, as evident in the Oilers’ 4-3 loss to the Canucks in Game 3. Despite a good first few minutes of the game leading to a Mattias Ekholm goal five minutes into the game, it was all sucked away into a black hole as the Canucks scored three goals by the end of the first frame. 
Elias Lindholm tipped home a power-play goal, as Brock Boeser sniped two more, and the Oilers were on their heels. While the second and third-period shot clocks reflected dominance from the Oilers, it never felt as if that actually were the case.
Even as the Oilers threw 87 shot attempts the Canucks’ way, 59 of which game at 5v5, it all felt like more quantity over quality. They couldn’t seem to get inside on Arturs Silovs, and while hitting the post four times surely doesn’t help their case, the problems reach deeper.
Like Evan Bouchard, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman and Mattias Ekholm collectively playing anywhere from 61 minutes to 49 minutes over the last two games.
Like Stuart Skinner being unable to make a save when the team needs it.
Like the Oilers getting zero goals from their bottom-six all playoffs.
Like Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci swimming on the ice, getting outscored 6-1 by the Canucks.
Like Corey Perry, the supposed perennial playoff performer, turning into an absolute shell of what the team needs him to be.
Like Warren Foegele, who made mistake after mistake, turning over pucks in the defensive zone that led to goals against, or taking reckless penalties while literally sitting on the bench.
Like the fact the Oilers went from averaging 35.8 hits per game against the L.A. Kings to just 29 against the Canucks.
Like all the problems this team has plagued for the last number of years, they have never been addressed in ways that actually make a difference.
Make no mistake, things are not pretty in Edmonton on Monday morning.
But there are always ups and downs in the post-season. Think back to the 2022 playoffs and the Oilers’ first-round series against the Kings. They dropped Game 1 at home, roared back in Games 2 and 3 with wins, got shut out in Game 4, lost Game 5 in overtime on home ice, and then had two dominant performances in Games 6 and 7.
More than a few times in that series, reality set in about what needed to be accomplished and what wasn’t being done to make it so. For the Oilers today, they can draw on those experiences because they’ll get more cracks at the Canucks before this series is over.
A looming goaltending decision needs to be made, the reality that the Big Five can’t play as much as they are, and somebody, anybody beyond them needs to step up.

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 zach@thenationnetwork.com.


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