Oilers abandon defensive identity, leaving both goalies chanceless vs. Flames

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CALGARY — It set out to be a game we’d really learn something from. One of those nights that would make us salivate even more for that plausible Round 2 series, the first Battle of Alberta playoff meeting in 31 years. 

Could Edmonton, with its full lineup intact and a newly stout defensive game, give Calgary everything it could handle in their final meeting of the season? 

Would the Flames show Edmonton why the Oilers have spent the season in Calgary’s rear-view mirror, righting the season series at two games apiece and sailing off into the Pacific sunset? 

Yeah, well…. 

The two teams combined for 11 goals inside the first 30 minutes of the game — and 14 on the night in a 9-5 Flames win — and we looked at our expectations and said, “Well, one out of two ain’t bad.” 

We didn’t learn a damned thing about these two teams on Saturday night, as neither played the kind of game that got them here. 

But man, are we salivating for a playoff series now. 

“We played bad. We played poorly,” said Oiler Zach Hyman. “It’s 9-2 at even strength. You can’t blame our goalies. We hung them out to dry. It was an all-around poor performance.” 

“We went away from the script,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft, who likely didn’t recognize his team on Saturday. “We went away from what our game plan was, and we paid the price for it. Nine even-strength goals? Not good enough.”

Edmonton has had good goaltending of late, and been solid defensively during a 6-1-1 run. With that in mind, perhaps we did learn something after all. 

They’re still a work in progress. A team that can play a winning style, but not one to whom it comes naturally. 

And the goaltending? It was poor on this night, but left chanceless by one of the worst defensive efforts of the season. 

“You can’t give up nine goals — it doesn’t matter against who. You’re never gonna win a game in the NHL if you give up nine,” Leon Draisaitl said. “So we can talk all we want — it’s not good enough. Top to bottom. It starts with me and our leadership group. I’m pretty confident will be better (on Monday versus Arizona).” 

As well as Edmonton’s five-on-five game has come along under Woodcroft, the Oilers completely abandoned any sort of responsible systems play on Saturday night. Their defensive zone was like a Southern California interchange, with Oilers players flying every which way, without plan or purpose. 

“It’s just disappointing because we didn’t show up,” said Hyman. “We didn’t play well, to a man. It’s hard to find someone who had a good game. It was just poor all around and we’ll regroup.” 

We learned that, while Edmonton’s power play is much improved with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup (it went three-for-five), the Oilers couldn’t come within a country mile of this Flames team at five-on-five. Which is how playoff series are won and lost. 

This was even strength men versus power play boys: Calgary outshot the Oilers 38-31 on the night, and peppered their goal with 76 attempts. At five-on-five, the Flames outshot Edmonton 52-40. 

Draisaitl had three goals and an assist, and was minus-4. That’s not one you see very often. 

Somehow, Duncan Keith was plus-1 on a night when Cody Ceci was minus-5. 

As former head coach Todd McLellan used to say, the Oilers were “red rotten” from top to bottom. 

“It starts with me,” Draisaitl said, on the night he pulled into a tie for the league lead in goals with Toronto’s Auston Matthews, at 47. “I have to be a lot better and I know our group and myself we will be a lot better.” 

He was nonplussed by the hatty, a strange scene as hats rained down on the Saddledome ice. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “You can’t lose nine-whatever.” 

Mikko Koskinen started for Edmonton, and got lit up for five goals on 12 shots before giving way to Mike Smith. The former Flames netminder, in turn, was torched for four in 26 Flames shots, on a night that was not friendly to anyone’s saves percentage. 

“I don’t care who was in net tonight,” Hyman said. “There were nine even-strength goals. It’s not on our goalies. 

“It’s on us.”

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