A two-game losing skid midway through the season is hardly the end of the world for a team that has still won 15 of its last 22 outings.
Even so, the urgency is real for the Edmonton Oilers as they chase a divisional title and prepare for a second consecutive road clash with the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.
Fortunately for the Oilers, Toronto is struggling mightily these days, and Winnipeg has been inconsistent, so Edmonton still is within reach of the North Division lead, as long as they can prevent a couple of losses from turning into a full-scale plummet.
It was easy for the Oilers to shrug off Saturday’s 2-1 loss in Vancouver — their fourth game in six nights as they travel through a couple of time zones — but Monday’s 4-3 loss to the Flames in Calgary felt like a fire-starter.
“There’s lessons to be learned from that game,” said coach Dave Tippett. “Our fingers were all over the goals we gave them,” Tippett added. “Three of their four came on poor reads and mistakes.”
The Oilers blew a chance to move up to second in the division and pull within two points of the North Division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs, who have lost five of their last six.
It’s not like the Oilers put in a bad performance in dropping an intense affair to kick off this two-game set. They just weren’t sharp enough.
“It’s a rivalry game,” defenseman Adam Larsson said. “It means a lot to both teams, the pride that’s going into that, but I think we just need to find ways to win games no matter who we play. I still think we’re doing a lot of good things. We’re getting enough chances to win games.
“We came up short, (but) we’re still a confident group,” Larsson added. “We just have to play a lot harder, but I still think we played well enough to win.”
The Flames are a changed squad — 3-1-1 — since Darryl Sutter stepped behind the bench as head coach on March 4.
That said, their struggles are not in the past. After all, the Flames still sit outside a playoff position, and Sutter has no problem reminding his players of that fact.
“We’re still behind the eight-ball,” he said. “If this was our last game of the year, we could say we won, but we didn’t make the playoffs. We’re just trying to find a way to get more solid, to create more opportunities, to spend less time in our zone. There are lots of things we can get better at.”
Therefore, he won’t stop using the whip on a team that’s looking for its first four-game winning streak of the season.
“We can play better,” Sutter said. “I think we lost coverage a couple times and lost goals, but overall, I thought it was a pretty solid game. Our goalie — probably the last three or four minutes — made some big saves to hang on for the win.”
The changes under Sutter can’t be missed. Not only have they solidified their defensive play — which in turn has resulted in a perfect penalty kill (0-for-7) in the past four games — but a more structured, yet aggressive forecheck, is creating more offensive opportunity.
“Guys are starting to play to their roles and compete and work hard and play a full 60 minutes, and that’s what you need,” defenseman Noah Hanifin said. “We have a deep team, and I think we’re doing a good job of utilizing everybody, and that’s what you want to do. That’s what successful teams do. We have to keep that going.
“Obviously, we still have some way to climb a bit, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
“It’s fun. Winning’s good,” added forward Dillon Dube. “It makes it a lot easier coming to the rink for practice and the energy stays a little higher, and that’s why we’re coming out stronger in first periods now, because we have a lot of confidence in our game.”
–Field Level Media