NEWARK – When one team is trying to extend its winning streak to 13 games and the other hasn’t won two straight games in three weeks, the results are somewhat predictable.
And so it was Monday when the 16-3-0 New Jersey Devils packed their game winning column but edged out the Edmonton Oilers, who added their record of inconsistency to nine games and counting.
“There were some mistakes we made ourselves that we have to fix in our game,” said coach Jay Woodcroft, whose team came off the wrong end of a 5-2 decision at the Prudential Center. “When you play with a team that is on the rosters, they make you pay for those single mistakes and we were forced to pay tonight.”
The Oilers launched a short comeback attempt in the third period but the Devils are too good a team to deliver easy goals, and the hosts enjoyed some of them this time around.
“We knew they were on the run when we came in,” said defender Tyson Barry. “Give them credit, they’re playing solid hockey right now, and if you’re going to beat them you have to play the full 60, and tonight we weren’t either. Against a team that’s playing well, we needed more.”
While New Jersey hasn’t lost since Oct. 24, Edmonton continues its search for momentum, having gone LLLWLWLWL in its last nine starts. They fell to 10-9 with two games left on the New York road trip.
“It’s something we’re going to need to find a solution to,” said winger Zach Heyman. “This is a good league and you have to get it every night. The par this year is better than any year if you look at the standings in both conferences. We need to start series games together and not just have a good game, then a good game and then a good and not-so-good game.
“We need some consistency in our game. It’s not early in the year anymore. We’re getting close to the 20-game mark. We need to figure that out.”
The Oilers are happy to be dealing with the Devils, after dropping a pair of powerful Devils in front of them this year. Earlier this month, it was heartbreaking — the Oilers took a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes, only to give up three goals in the third period, including the tying marks and winning seven seconds into the dying minutes. This time New Jersey was leading all night.
“It was hard to lose, especially twice in a row against these guys,” said Stuart Skinner, the goalkeeper. “All we can do is learn from our mistakes and move forward.”
There was a lot to learn from them on all fronts.
After a first period on goals from New Jersey’s Jesper Pratt (power play at 2:25) and Leon Dricetel at 13:02, things got even worse for Edmonton in the second half.
It started with Skinner’s usual hard skin sniffing at a puck he was trying to chip into the corner, setting up a spin and an easy take advantage of Dawson-Mercer’s empty net at 5:15. Demons are dangerous enough that you can’t give them any easy targets, until one of them is wounded.
“The puck was kind of bobbing and I tried to play into the corner and I kind of fueled it,” said Skinner. “Obviously it’s hard to let them in because it gives them a 2-1 lead. If not, who knows?
“I definitely needed to make a better play, but when things like that happen, and they will, you just have to step back and move forward.”
From there, the Devils took advantage of a three-on-two rush to make it up 3-1 after 40 minutes. Skinner stumbled into his crease and was unable to make the decisive save.
“I tried to grab the edge and just lost it,” he said. “I fell and couldn’t get to it. It’s touching because it gives them a 3-1 lead.”
Ryan Nugent Hopkins made it 3-2 five minutes into the third, but it took just over two minutes before Thomas Tatar smashed a shot from inside the blue line and walked untouched to bury the rebound into his own goal to break the back. Neither Jesse Polijarvi nor Tyson Barry made any kind of tackle.
“If they get to the blue line and they shoot them, they have to touch,” Woodcroft said. “They can’t just have a free lane to take advantage of the rebound. That’s one of those individual mistakes we have to clean up.
Igor Sharanjović put it wide with five minutes remaining. game over.
“Tough one,” Hayman sighed. “They are a good team and we have to be better.”
It was a tough night all around for the Edmonton goalkeepers. Late in the second period, Jack Campbell took a pinch in the face while sitting on the bench and had to go to the Oilers locker room for repairs.
“I went and saw him after the second period and he was laughing and smiling, that’s just the kind of guy he is,” said Skinner. “He had a beautiful bloody nose. It’s upsetting to see that happen.”
On Twitter: @Rob_Tychkowski