The Day After 9.0: Two goals from Sam Gagner aren’t enough for Oilers to beat Stars

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
8 months ago
So nice he did it twice. 
If there was any doubt about Sam Gagner’s ability to impact the Edmonton Oilers lineup, that was put to rest on Thursday night in his return to Rogers Place.
Facing a 4-1 deficit to the Dallas Star, Gagner found the back of the net twice in three minutes to keep the Oilers in the game. Both markers saw him clean up some loose change and drop it into the piggy bank in front of the net, but his first was exceptional. 
Gagner took a breakout pass out of the defensive zone and turnstiled Matt Duchene in the neutral zone, cutting toward the centre of the ice only to force another Star, Mason Marchment, to get caught in the same vortex. He’d pass off once he gained the zone and head to the net, where he would score his first goal in Oilers threads in 1,352 days, and his second goal would look the same in front of the net.


“The way he worked for both of his, you can feel the energy,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said after the game. “He’s beloved in Edmonton for good reason.
“I thought we rallied behind his energy, and the energy in the building.”
For the Oilers as a whole, however, it was far from enough. It’s not as if Edmonton had played a poor game. The difference maker was the Stars finding a way to score on three odd-man rushes. 
“We made some errors in the second period that led us to falling behind in the game, chasing the game,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. “We made a real strong push in the third period, but when you spot a real good team that type of lead, it’s tough to come back.
“Ninty-nine shot attempts, 50 on net, all that kind of stuff, that’s nice, but when you spot a good team a lead like that, usually you don’t end up on the right side of it.”
A fair assessment. 
In Woodcroft’s eyes, the Oilers got caught down low in the offensive zone on the Stars’ first goal, scored by Duchene, and made a misread on a pinch. The second, scored by Joe Pavelski 3:25 into the second, was a puck management issue, the bench boss said. 
On Dallas’s third goal, scored by Roope Hintz in the second, was off a Stars powerplay rush, and their fourth, also scored by Hintz, “was a rush we’d like to play differently on the way back,” Woodcroft noted.
“I saw a team working very, very hard to try and make amends for falling behind, but ultimately, we shot ourselves in the foot tonight,” he added. “We’re taking it one day at a time, we’re taking it one game at a time, and we’re looking to take a step here.”
Edmonton finds themselves in an unfavourable spot. 
They’re 14 standings points back of the Vegas Golden Knights for the Pacific Division lead and eight points back of a Wild Card spot. The calendar has barely flipped to November, but when you’re a team with Cup-or-bust aspirations like these Edmonton Oilers, this is the reality of the hill they must climb. 
The good news is there are lots of things to like. It’s weird to say when you’re talking about a 2-6-1 team, but it’s the truth. 
First and foremost, they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who have yet to look like themselves quite this season. The latter of which is now on a six-game goalless drought. It sounds silly to say, but that’s game-breaking talent.
Second, the Oilers, based on all of the shot attempts they have taken this season, should have scored 8.53 more goals than they have already this year. The difference between expected and actual goals, over time, balances out, meaning the Oilers are due to go on a goal-scoring run. 
Third, those numbers are supported by drastically low luck numbers. In all situations, the Oilers’ shooting percentage is 8.33, and their team save percentage is .8657, for a combined 94.9 PDO. Over the last three years, their team shooting percentage has been 10.98, the second highest in the league, with a team save percentage of .9047, for a combined 101.5 PDO. 
Much like the expected vs. actual goal numbers, these percentages balance out over time. A team like the Oilers isn’t going to have low shooting and save percentages like they do for a significant stretch, and that’s reason for optimism.
In the words of Evander Kane from last night, “we made too many boo-boo’s tonight.” 
It sounds silly, but it’s true. 
And in the words of Sam Gagner, there’s lots to like. 
“It’s just a matter of having that intensity throughout the game to bear down on certain things that happen,” he said after last night’s loss. “I think there’s a lot to like, too, a lot to build off of.
“It’s not the start anybody wanted. There’s lots of expectations on this group. When it doesn’t go exactly as you planned, it’s hard to see the positivity throughout the games. You kind of wait for bad things to happen. When they do, it kind of has a snowball effect.
“I think it’s just a matter of finding that joy again, finding the urgency to make sure we’re getting things done correctly. And if it doesn’t go our way, just pushing through it and enjoying the process of it. It’s a great opportunity ahead of us to climb the standings, and we’re going to push forward.”
Well said.

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@oilersnation.com.

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