EDMONTON – Despite the Oilers continuously missing opportunities to move over the .500 mark, Edmonton head coach Craig MacTavish doesn’t feel it’s a case of having a mental block.
But it certainly seems like something is in their way, as for the fourth time this season the Oilers had a chance to find themselves holding a winning season record, only to slip back under the break-even line. This time it was Patrick O’Sullivan who led the way with a goal and an assist as the Los Angeles Kings knocked off the Oilers 3-1 on Tuesday night.
The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Oilers (21-22-4), who blew an opportunity to sweep their crucial five-game homestand before heading out on the road.
MacTavish says he isn’t quite sure why his team can’t seem to get back to a winning record on the season.
“I’m not of the belief that it is something psychological,” he said. “That it’s some kind of burden we can’t overcome. We can overcome it. It’s not the way we wanted to go on the road. But we did a lot of things right on this homestand and we’ll have to remember this lesson of why we lost the hockey game.”
The real lesson in this one was preparation. The Oilers had a dreadful start to the game, outshot 13-3 in the first.
“It was kind of obvious early that we weren’t playing up to the level that we have been playing the last few games,” said Oiler defenceman Sheldon Souray. “We came out maybe a little bit flatter than we would have liked. If we had started the game the way we finished it, we would have had a lot more success.”
Edmonton captain Moreau says there is no excuse for coming out of the gate the way they did.
“Our start was unacceptable,” he said. “We have to do a lot better than that to begin a game. It’s a part of being a professional, being ready every night. We’re not in a position where we can take any time off.”
Dustin Brown and Lubomir Visnovsky also scored for L.A., winners of their third game in a row. The Kings (18-27-2) have now won six of their last nine following on the heels on a dreadful eight game losing streak.
“Tonight was a very strong game for us,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “We did a great job, I thought, of hanging on to the puck and really challenging an Oiler D that’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. I thought we back-checked really well.”
“We stuck to trying to give up as little as we could and we got a good performance from our goalie, and when you get all that you get a good chance to win,” O’Sullivan said.
The Kings started the scoring just over five minutes as Anze Kopitar spotted O’Sullivan open at the side of the net, and he sent a shot stick-side past Oilers starter Mathieu Garon.
The Kings made it 2-0 four minutes into the second period as Oiler Robert Nilsson’s attempt to tip a puck out of his zone was intercepted by O’Sullivan, who fed it to Brown at the side of the Edmonton net for his 23rd.
Edmonton thought they had pulled back to within one with seven minutes remaining in the middle frame on a wraparound attempt by Denis Grebeshkov. But the puck bounced off of Kings goalie Jason LaBarbera, and then the post before being swept away to keep the Kings’ lead intact.
Los Angeles went up 3-0 in the third when Garon allowed a big rebound on a kick-save following Kopitar’s power-play point shot and Visnovsky was there to rifle the puck into the open net before Garon could get back across.
The Oilers finally got on the board with just over nine minutes remaining as Dustin Penner kicked a puck to his stick in the crease and put it home to end LaBarbera’s shutout bid.
The Oilers begin their five-game road swing in Washington on Thursday. L.A. visits Calgary on Friday.
Oiler forward Jarrett Stoll says the team will have to remember what they did right in the first four games of the homestand as they head on the road.
“It’s a huge trip,” he said. “It’s an important stretch. We have to take these five games and set a goal for ourselves and get some wins. We have to put ourselves in a better position heading into the break than we are now.”
Notes:. Los Angeles captain Rob Blake set a new Kings franchise record for games played by a defenseman in the contest as the 38-year-old played in his 781st contest for the club. Mattias Norstrom held the previous mark of 780 games. …Both teams will be represented in the YoungStars event during all-star weekend. Oiler centre Sam Gagner and Kings defenceman Jack Johnson were both selected on Tuesday to compete in a 3-on-3 event held during the skill competition the day before the NHL all-star game. …Gagner and fellow Oiler rookie Andrew Cogliano have really cooled down during the middle of the season as Gagner hasn’t scored in 13 games and Cogliano has only one goal to show for his last 20. …L.A. winger Brian Willsie sat out Tuesday’s game with a sore lower back. Recently called up Teddy Purcell played in his place.