Death, taxes, and the Edmonton Oilers making it hard on themselves.
Last night’s 3-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres was no different. A game the Oilers should’ve handily won on paper was far from it.
Sure, they came out with a good start. Lots of energy in the first few minutes made it seem like the Oilers broke open the scoring, but Darnell Nurse’s goal was called back. Then a Sabres goal was called back, too. Then four penalties were called in the back half of that frame.
Easy to blame the change of flow in the game on the team slowing down and looking sloppy, but the truth of the matter is the Sabres were just playing better hockey.
“We allowed them to score some easy goals,” said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett, who took questions from media for all of one minute and seven seconds. “There was some effort there, but didn’t play smart.”
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That sloppy hockey cost them. Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith each coughed up pucks on the Sabres’ first and second goals, and on the third, Darnell Nurse tried to carry the puck deep into the offensive zone before turning it over.
On each goal the Sabres scored, they had a player slip behind the Oilers’ last line of defence and get breakaway chances. Sloppy.
“We gave them four breakaways and they scored on three of them,” said Tippett. “It is what it is.”
Some concerning trends are starting to emerge for the Oilers and it’s nothing those who follow the team are foreign to. Edmonton’s struggling at five-on-five. In the last seven days, the Oilers have played four games and given up 13 5×5 goals — the most in the league in that time.
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On the season, Edmonton’s 30 5×5 goals against are tied for the fourth-worst number in the league with the Vegas Golden Knights. The teams who have given up more? Seattle, Arizona and Chicago.
“You have to get used to the back-to-backs. You play a few on the road especially, it’s not an excuse,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after the game. “We’ve been doing it for years now, so you know what to expect. With those powerplays in the middle and the penalty kills, you have to find a way to get your legs and start playing a little more energetic five-on-five.”
It’s not just about playing energetic at five-on-five, it’s about playing better defensive hockey.
Edmonton’s tough road trip isn’t about to get easier, either. Sunday night they head to St. Louis to play a red hot Blues team atop the Central Division with 18 points before visiting the Winnipeg Jets, who have 17 points on the year.
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Gut check time for the Oilers team.

Backhanders…

  • Evan Bouchard continues to munch minutes for the Oilers defence. He played 22:09 last night on the top pair, the third-most minutes on the team, and was second in shorthanded time on ice with 1:41. He led the way analytically for Oilers defencemen, too, and is clearly trusted by this coaching staff. He’s had a very impressive start to the season.
  • Emily Cave, the widow of the late Colby Cave, was in Boston for Thursday night’s game against the Bruins where they honoured Colby. Last night, she was in Providence with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate where there was another ceremony to honour Colby. Providence beat the Leigh Valley Phantoms 6-3 and Zach Senysyn, who was close with Colby, scored a hat trick. You know that one was for Colby.

What they’re saying…

Sabres Observations: Dylan Cozens, Dustin Tokarski out-duel McDavid, Draisaitl
Robert Hagg must have thought the puck wouldn’t make it to the other side of the net. The Buffalo Sabres defenseman seemed to cut off any passing lane when he dropped to one knee and held the shaft of his stick flush to the ice.
This was Connor McDavid, though. Somehow, the human highlight reel with an otherworldly skill set sent a back-hand pass across the crease to the opposite post, where his fellow superstar teammate, Leon Draisaitl, banked a shot off Dustin Tokarski and in to take the lead for the Edmonton Oilers in the second period Friday night.
The goal occurred amid the Oilers’ fifth power play and could have sent the Sabres into a tailspin. Then, the 20-year-old center tasked with shutting down McDavid showed why he’s a key figure in general manager Kevyn Adams’ plan to build a winner in Buffalo.
Dylan Cozens scored twice in a span of 5:14 – including a rebound chance where he beat McDavid to a loose puck – for his first career multi-goal game, and Tokarski delivered several remarkable saves in the third period to help the Sabres snap their five-game skid with a 3-2 win.
“The way he played tonight, he had an amazing game,” beamed coach Don Granato, referring to Cozens. “My trust in him has always been there, definitely long term. … His ceiling, I can’t tell you where his ceiling is. It’s high.”
The Sabres (6-5-2) improved to 5-1-1 at home this season and overcame six penalties against the league’s top-ranked power play. Tokarski delivered 33 saves, and Anders Bjork also had a goal for Buffalo.
While the result wasn’t possible without Tokarski’s heroics, this was about Cozens facing his most difficult test to date. With only one goal in his previous 32 games, Cozens had a long meeting with Granato this week to go over video clips from recent games. It was during that conversation when Granato asked Cozens if he was ready to be line matched with McDavid.
“I liked what I saw and felt he was ready for the challenge, whichever way it went,” said Granato. Lance Lysowki, The Buffalo News

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]