Mike Harrington: Even with McDavid, 'Full Oilers' performance is shocking - The Buffalo News
print logo

Mike Harrington: Even with McDavid, 'Full Oilers' performance is shocking

The start was baffling and the finish was shocking.

Fans and veteran pundits have seen this all before in Edmonton and they call it "going Full Oilers."

It happened again Tuesday night in KeyBank Center. After 10 years of missing the playoffs, the Oilers have NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid and should be able to push for a Pacific Division title.

But they can't help themselves some nights. They play sleepy at times all over the ice and especially in the defensive zone. Missed scoring chances, a bad penalty or three and you get a 4-3 overtime loss to the injury-ravaged Sabres.

After climbing out of a 2-0 first-period hole, Edmonton outshot the Sabres, 32-14, over the second and third periods. And still lost.

"We did a really good job taking that game over after the first," McDavid said. "Started slow, battled back, had the lead and weren't really giving up much. They didn't have many chances, especially in the third period. Give them credit. They found a way to get one and get it to overtime and their power play bore down in the overtime."

Edmonton coach Todd McLellan looked like he wanted to spit nails when talking about Adam Larsson's foolish holding penalty with 17 seconds left that set up Ramsus Ristolainen's ping-shot off the post in OT. But what really bothered him was the start.

The Oilers spent the morning talking about the advantage they had of flying in Monday and waiting on the Sabres to show up from Washington. And about the anger they still had over the 6-2 butt-kicking the Sabres put on them in October at Rogers Place.

All empty words. It didn't help them at all.

"We're going to look at the end and obviously that's disappointing but we were very sluggish and slow," McLellan said. "Behind the 8-ball. The first two goals bother me more than the last two. Naturally, the penalty at the end of the game is a senseless one. It's one we have to avoid. There's nothing really dangerous going on there. But the 6-on-5 goal happens sometimes.

"The pace of the game they dictated early and I thought the last two periods we performed like we should have in the first but those things happen. We're supposed to be a quick team and we looked nowhere near quick."

McDavid had a couple quick rushes in the first period -- he beat Jack Eichel to the goal and got in alone on Anders Nilsson in the first minute of play -- but was otherwise quiet in that 20 minutes as well.

"We just weren't ready to go. We were flat," McDavid said. "They're battling some injuries, especially on the back end, and maybe we were looking at that too much."

McDavid took a foolish interference penalty less than two minutes into the second period, giving the Sabres a chance to grab a stranglehold on the game with the Oilers captain in the box.

It didn't happen. Edmonton killed the penalty with ease and McDavid went to work. Jorden Eberle scored on a power play at 10:31 of the second period and then McDavid found Milan Lucic for the tying goal just 1:45 later. A 2-0 Sabres lead was gone.

While killing a penalty early in the period, McDavid found himself in alone on Nilsson as he saw an opening and burst through the neutral zone to take the breakaway pass from former Sabre Zack Kassian. McDavid blew away Rasmus Ristolainen, no skating slouch, but couldn't beat Nilsson through the five-hole.

"When you're coming in with that speed, you're hoping the goalie is going to back up a little bit and maybe you can beat him with a quick one," McDavid said. "I didn't really get all of it. I need to bear down more on that one for sure."

On a third-period power play a few minutes later, however, McDavid found Leon Draisaitl in front for a perfect tip to put the Oilers up, 3-2, with 10:01 left. The Sabres were in trouble. It seemed like they were out of gas. But they dug deep.

"When we played against Minnesota the other night, we were tired," McLellan said. "I know Buffalo played in Washington last night and they were tired and they seemed to manage their way through it. The schedule by no means affected the Oilers tonight. It should have favored us."

The rough finish aside, McDavid is a Lamborghini. He can go from 0 to 60 in about three seconds. It's scary for opposing defenses. Jake McCabe did all he could most of the night on McDavid, nearly crushing him at center ice late in the second period before McDavid made a last-minute leap to sidestep him.

But it's pretty obvious why McDavid is the league's leading scorer in just his second season and why he's almost certain to be the Pacific Division captain in the All-Star Game. The speed is breathtaking.

McDavid entered the game with 27 goals and 82 points in 72 career games and had never gone three straight without a point. The assist on the Lucic goal took care of that.

The Oilers look pretty good to snap the league's longest playoff drought, which dates to their unlikely trip to the 2006 Cup final. Remember, they could have been playing the Sabres were it not for Buffalo's rash of injuries on defense that struck in Carolina that spring.

(Sound familiar to what's happening with the Sabres now?)

"We definitely need to start better," McDavid said. "It's nice to come back and put ourselves in position to get a point but we need to find ways to win games like this."

Sure do. Give the Sabres props for surviving the travel schedule and wafer-thin blueline. But this was a game Edmonton should not have lost. Full Oilers all the way.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

##

There are no comments - be the first to comment