From an Edmonton Oilers perspective, there really isn’t anything positive that can be said about their 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Tuesday (Nov. 23). To be blunt, it was their worst night of what has been a fantastic opening six weeks of the 2021-22 NHL season.
It wasn’t just that the three-goal margin tied for Edmonton’s most lopsided loss thus far, but that, for the first time this season, the Oilers never really felt in the game.
Edmonton trailed 2-0 after the first period and fell behind 3-0 before Oilers forward Ryan McLeod scored to make it 3-1 heading into the second intermission, but a Luke Glendening goal midway through the third period snuffed out any hopes of an Oilers comeback. Not that it ever seemed like one was coming, anyway.
To make matters worse, Oilers defenceman Duncan Keith left the game with an upper-body injury in the second period and didn’t return. His status was not known following the game, but if the 38-year-old is out for any duration, it will be a major blow to Edmonton’s blueline, which is already without injured veterans Darnell Nurse and Slater Koekkoek.
And in one final insult to injury, Connor McDavid saw his streak of 25 consecutive games with a point, which spanned the final eight games of 2020-21 and the first 17 of this season, come to an end.
The Oilers still hold down second place in the Pacific Division with 23 points and have a tremendous record of 13-5, so it’s not as if the sky is falling in Edmonton. It’s because the Oilers have enjoyed so much early success that a game like Tuesday’s is a shock to the system.
A Dose of Reality Between the Pipes
On Tuesday, Stuart Skinner made his third consecutive start in goal for the Oilers. The 23-year-old had been the talk of Oil Country the previous few days, following his standout performances backstopping the Oilers to victories over the Winnipeg Jets (2-1 in a shootout on Nov. 18) and Chicago Blackhawks (5-2 on Nov. 20) at Rogers Place.
With Mike Smith sidelined indefinitely and Mikko Koskinen continuing his Jekyll and Hyde act, Oilers fans are desperate for a goalie they can count on and found a source of hope in Skinner, who entered Tuesday’s game with a goals-against average of 2.08 and .939 save percentage through his first five appearances.
While he was scored on a season-high four times, Skinner was by no means terrible against the Stars. Dallas got full value for all four of its goals and could have easily had a couple of others were it not for big saves by Skinner. The Oilers didn’t do their young netminder any favors, either, being outshot 33-22 by the home team.
But an elite goalie might have made an extra save or two that Skinner did not. Tuesday game just demonstrated that, for all the rightful excitement and hype around Skinner over the last week, he’s still just half a dozen games into his NHL career and isn’t going to become a legit No. 1 at hockey’s highest level overnight. Believing he can evolve into a star goalie is realistic; expecting him to carry the load for the Oilers right now isn’t so reasonable.
Stop If You’ve Heard This Before
Not to sound like a broken record, but the Oilers aren’t leaving many choices with their dreadful record when it comes to the beginning of games.
When Roope Hintz scored at 10:59 of the first period to give Dallas a 1-0 lead, it marked the eighth time in nine games that Edmonton has conceded the opening goal. Overall, the Oilers have trailed first 11 times this season, which is tied for the fourth-most in the NHL.
Edmonton may have a winning record when giving up the first goal (6-5) but are yet to lose when they score first (7-0), which shows just how important a 1-0 lead is to the Oilers. Moreover, Edmonton has is without a win (0-4) when trailing after the first period.
There’s no rhyme or reason as to why this troubling trend has mushroomed into a full-blown habit for the Oilers. There have been a couple of occasions when Edmonton came out of the gates stronger, but for the most part, this is a stat that doesn’t lie: a casual observer can tell you exactly what the numbers do, which is that the opponent has more jump from the opening face-off. Youth and inexperience are no longer an excuse for the Oilers, who shouldn’t start games so flat for no other discernable reason than lack of energy and/or focus. That’s a correctable problem, but the fix comes from within.
Oilers’ Special Teams Take a Hit
The Oilers woke up on Tuesday with the No. 1 power play (39.6%) in the NHL and No. 2 penalty kill (88.9%). They went to bed still ranking first on the PP (38.2%) but have dropped to sixth on the PK (86.4%), after Dallas went 2/5 with the man advantage, scoring both of its power-play goals in the decisive first period. Edmonton had two abbreviated power plays and converted on neither opportunity.
Through their first 17 games, the Oilers had outscored opponents 23-6 on special teams for an incredible differential of plus-1.00 per game, so it’s probably no coincidence that their worst loss of the season came on the same night that they were outscored on special teams for the first time and gave up more than one power-play goal for the first time in 2021-22.
Related Link: Oilers’ Dominant Penalty Kill Flying Under the Radar
Edmonton is now at a minus-three differential (38 goals for, 41 goals against) at 5-on-5 this season, indicative of how critical special teams has been and will be for the team in 2021-22. That’s a somewhat fraught recipe for success, given the widely-shared view that the Oilers aren’t getting the calls they deserve, particularly in the case of superstar Connor McDavid.
Furthermore, Edmonton coach Dave Tippett said during Tuesday’s post-game media availability that he didn’t think the Oilers were deserving of all penalties they received against Dallas but also said that “the difference is we didn’t kill them tonight.”
Tuesday was, simply put, just one of those nights for the Oilers, a game to flush and move on to the next. They won’t have let this fester, given they’re back in action Wednesday, and it’s the perfect tonic in the form of the Arizona Coyotes, who have the Western Conference’s worst record. Koskinen is likely to start, with puck drop set for 8 p.m. at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.