EDMONTON – Starting slow and then fading at the finish is no way to win a race. The Edmonton Oilers are learning it’s not a very good strategy for winning hockey games either.
On Sunday, the Oilers spotted the Vancouver Canucks a 2-0 lead and then managed just one shot at Roberto Luongo in the third period on the way to a 2-1 loss.
The defeat came after the Oilers squeaked out a 4-3 shootout win over Tampa Bay on Friday despite falling behind early and getting just one shot on goal in the third period.
The Oilers are hoping to put an end to their lacklustre play when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Rexall Place on Tuesday.
“We have to continue to push forward,” Sam Gagner said. “We’ve got to crash the net a little more and maybe stop the little, cute plays. Just get pucks and bodies to the net and try to create traffic that way.
“We’ve all been guilty of it at times. We’ve got a lot of skill in this room and guys want to use that skill, but, at the end of the day. there’s only so many chances to get prime opportunities to shoot.”
Despite the loss of captain Shawn Horcoff to a sprained knee and Ales Hemsky to a strained groin, the Oilers had won five of their last six games when they faced the Canucks. They beat the Lightning despite being outshot 17-1 in the third period, thanks to a spectacular shootout goal by rookie Linus Omark.
They got outshot 14-1 in the third period by the Canucks, who’d lost 5-4 to Tampa Bay on Saturday and didn’t get to their hotel until 3 a.m. The Oilers lone shot came on Jordan Eberle’s goal with five seconds remaining.
“Vancouver comes in after a tough loss in overtime,” Gilbert Brule said. “They’re tired. They’re playing back-to-back. We just have to get on them. If we’re competing, we’re going to have 30 shots in a game. That just shows we weren’t competing hard enough.”
The Oilers were credited with just 12 shots against the Canucks, just one more than the franchise-low of 11 for a single game. They actually tied the low-water mark before team staff appealed to NHL statisticians to review shot totals for the second period—originally credited with six shots, the final game sheet was amended to seven.
“You could see this coming,” Brule said. “We’d won a couple of games, but they’re close games and we’re not getting a lot of shots.
“The third periods have been our best periods, but not the last couple of games here. Getting 12 shots? That’s just not good enough.”
All told, the 11-13-5 Oilers have been outscored 36-19 in first periods this season and have been outshot 315-237 in third periods. That’s not a trend, rebuilding team or not, coach Tom Renney wants to see continue.
“I don’t think so,” Tom Gilbert said when asked if the Oilers had lost their edge because of good results leading into the Vancouver game.
“I don’t think anyone here was thinking we just going to keep winning games and that it was just going to come to us. I just think the last game we were a little bit slow. They seemed to be a little more intense. Eleven or 12 shots in a game isn’t going to win anything.”
Even in a 5-0 win over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre Dec. 2, the Oilers were outshot 33-19, but got a razor-sharp performance from Nikolai Khabibulin to complete a sweep of a three-game road trip through Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.
“One of the things you don’t want on your mind is that you didn’t compete hard enough,” rookie Taylor Hall said. “Definitely, it’s something we have to fix. Hopefully, we compete a lot harder.”
NOTES: Jim Vandermeer, who injured his ankle in the first period Sunday, is scheduled for an MRI and probably won’t play against Toronto. Jason Strudwick will take his place in the lineup.