You don’t have to be around the NHL for long to realize that the landscape is changing quickly.
One day it’s all sunny, rainbows, and cotton candy clouds, and then, without warning, you feel like you’ll never find your way out of a dark and menacing forest.
One day you’re winning five straight games, chasing first place in the division, and the next you suffer two crushing defeats on home ice as you embark on a brutal road trip with the potential to make the woods even darker.
So sit the Edmonton Oilers after giving up three goals in the third period, two of them seven seconds late in the game, to win 3-1 over the New Jersey Devils and suffer a 6-2 rout of the Dallas Stars.
They were very different losses, but when you get kicked in the groin a few times it doesn’t really matter what kind of shoe is on the foot.
As the Oilers catch their breath beforehand in a four-game, six-day minefield across Washington, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Florida, everyone is anxiously awaiting their response.
This is a stretch that will either reaffirm everything we thought about this team when they were 7-3 and find ways to win or will add fuel to the embers of anxiety smoldering after those two losses.
This is where you enjoy.
Don’t or you die. Nothing in November can do or die. The Oilers could lose all four games, extend the losing streak to six games and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. They had two losing sets in six games last year and still qualified for the Western Conference Final.
But the next six days will be interesting.
There’s a fine line between “finding a way to win,” and simply running away from lulls and misses against Chicago and St. Louis that you won’t against New Jersey and Dallas. We’re about to see which side of that line the oil workers are on now.
It starts with a level of rivalry that hasn’t been good enough in the last two games. Nine times out of 10, when coaches reflect on game film after a loss, one of the biggest culprits is missed fights along the wall and putting fights around the net.
The Oilers were on the wrong side both of those times, because New Jersey was faster and more stubborn and Dallas was more solid and determined.
The effort level is easy enough to remedy and shouldn’t be a problem, you think, on Monday against the Capitals.
“That’s what it’s going to be like when we play against the top teams,” striker Derek Ryan said. “It’s a good wake-up call for us.”
The aiming mode is a bit more complicated. First, it is not a matter of controversy. There is nothing controversial about starting which goalkeeper plays better.
Now he is Stewart Skinner, who has the third-best save percentage in the NHL (. 944) among goaltenders who have played five or more games. He explodes — his 37.2 shots per game is the fourth-highest in the league — but he plays well above his $750,000 price tag.
As for Jack Campbell, that was the source of concern when the Oilers signed him. While he posted All-Star numbers in the first half of last season, he’s fallen badly in the last 17 games (894 save percentage), and he’s very close to where he is now (. 874).
So it begs the question, is this it? Campbell’s history as a starter is short — the only time he played in more than 31 games a season was last year in Toronto — so you can’t point to his career and dismiss this as a temporary slump.
Time will tell. Campbell is a hard working man who holds himself accountable. If there was a way to fix this, you’d think they’d find it.
“Tomorrow is a new day and I’m going back to work,” he said after giving up six against Dallas. “I expect to play at a certain level, and I haven’t yet. So I will.”
He’s also been here for a little while, and when things go sideways early on in a new team, it can be hard to relax and get back on track – especially on a team that’s been bombarded with strikeouts (27th in the league in shots allowed per game), takes a lot of penalties and does not protect the area around its network as it should.
Did anyone mention the penalties?
That was the soft part of this team all year, even when it was winning. Edmonton’s death penalty is currently 27th in the NHL and has allowed a goal in 10 of its first 12 games. He’s given up two goals in a game four times.
It’s a concern. When your team is lost in the jungle, there is never a shortage of worries.
“We know how to win, we know how to play against good teams,” said defender Darnell Nurse. “No excuses. Our team knows we are better and we will be.”