EDMONTON — Connor McDavid was sour.
And when a captain who so seldom speaks out in a critical way about his team’s play answers questions the way McDavid answered them after a 5-4 shootout loss, you know he’s pissed.
“You’re up 4-1 after 20 minutes. What happened?”
McDavid: “It wasn’t really a 4-1 game.”
“What happened on that powerplay in overtime?”
McDavid: “We’ve got to find a way to score.”
“Does reaching 100 points matter after a game like this?”
We’re not saying that the Oilers captain is upset at anyone else, or some element of the team that he has nothing to do with. He very well could be upset at the fact that his team has lost seven straight games that have extended past regulation time, and he’s one of the key people in charge of making sure those OT and shootout points get collected.
He could be cranky about the Oilers team effort in the third period, where they entered with a 4-2 lead and barely touched the puck the entire frame, outshot 10-2 and outscored 2-0 in that frame. He played much of that period and couldn’t help to turn the tide.
“We have to find a way to close one out,” he admitted. “And when it gets to the shootout we haven’t done a good job at that.”
McDavid scored Edmonton’s lone goal in a shootout loss to Detroit on Wednesday. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored on Edmonton’s first attempt Friday, and after him, nada.
McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Tyson Barrie, Derek Ryan, Kailer Yamamoto…. If any of them score Edmonton very likely wins.
But it’s not going in during extra time for these Oilers right now.
The best remedy for that is to defend a lead better. But that was a problem too on Friday, in a firewagon special that gave a sold-out Rogers Place crowd more than their money’s worth.
You can’t win in the long run if a two-goal lead after 40 isn’t enough, and everyone in that Oilers dressing room knows it.
“It is definitely something down the stretch which is going to be important for us,” Ryan said. “It is just about bearing down and playing the right way. Letting them get the goal early on in the period obviously isn’t ideal and maybe (they should be) focusing on the first five minutes there in the third and making sure we come out strong.”
Ironically, in the only other meeting this season the Oilers roared back from a 3-0 third-period deficit to win 4-3 at Madison Square Garden. That tasted sweet, while this was a special type of sour for an Oilers team that feels like it has the skill to have an advantage after 60 minutes.
“The third period wasn’t our finest period of the year,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “We gave up a chance (one minute) in, and then a goal (one) and a half minutes in. That allows the other team to feel good.”
This was a meeting between the two best teams in the NHL since Jan. 5, where New York (.800 winning percentage) and Edmonton (.750) have both found their games in the second half. And in the end, it became the rare goalie duel where eight goals went in, with Jack Campbell giving the Rangers fits, and Igor Shesterkin allowing four first-period goals and then slamming the door the rest of the way.
With two points (both assists), McDavid ties Sidney Crosby as the active player with the most 100-point seasons (six), though Crosby is on pace for 101 points himself this season. He could hold on to that mantle for at least one more year.
Both powerplays were potent at 2-for-4, a pair of elite offensive teams that would make for a wonderful playoff series one day, if each could navigate their way through their separate Conferences.
But if Edmonton has Stanley Cup aspirations, it’s going to have to shore up its defensive game. The young pair of Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard were exploited in this one, chasing the puck around their own zone for much of the night against the lightning-quick Rangers.
They were on for the killer goal, that 4-3 marker of Alexis Lafreniere’s just 1:36 into the third period that put New York on its toes, and Edmonton firmly on its heels for the remainder of the period.
“We were soft on a coverage and they have some skill players,” Woodcroft said of the goal. “They were able to pot one, but even at 4-3 I felt quite comfortable. The difference was, they tied it up on a five-on-three, and we didn’t score on our four-on-three in overtime.”
It’s funny, but a game like this brings the Oilers trade targets full circle, right back to where they were six weeks ago.
What began with a Joel Edmundson, Vladislav Gavrikov-type defender strayed on to forwards, and then the offensive maestro Erik Karlsson.
But when you score four and can’t win — for two games in a row — you begin to wonder if a staunch defender isn’t still the add general manager Ken Holland should be making. It doesn’t have to be either of the aforementioned, but we all know how the post-season works.
Getting a lead in the playoffs is hard. Defending it is even harder.
On this night at least, Edmonton didn’t defend hard enough. And it was a problem.