Oilers fans who saw Number 14 light the lamp last night were hoping for some tonic to clear away the bitter taste of Saturday’s shutout loss to Arizona. Did Edmonton leave Rexall Place happy Eberle after? Not really. Even though their performance last night showed improvement, it still fell short of bringing home a win against the Predators with a final score of three to two in favor of Nashville’s Ice Age Cats.
The aforementioned Jordan Eberle referred to the match as a moral victory for Edmonton, but such arguments still couldn’t ease the rub of yet another loss. It wasn’t enough for him or Oilers head coach Todd McLellan, who put things in perspective when summing up last night’s performance for Chris Wescott of EdmontonOilers.com.
“It was much better than it was last game. We played a smarter game, we didn’t give up outnumbered rushes and we were better structurally. There’s a lot of improvements, as far as that goes, but I don’t like looking at it that way because we were so bad in that last one that that’s not the norm. That’s not where we should be. We’re back to playing decent hockey tonight. Unfortunately, we didn’t come away with the win but we did some good things.”
So what happened between the first puck drop and the final buzzer? Let’s take a look at the tape.
By the numbers, this was Edmonton’s game to lose. They outshot Nashville 30 to 25. What happened to Edmonton internally looked like a case of dissipating energy and play that unraveled into a tangle of easily avoidable mistakes by the third period. What happened to the Oilers from the opposition was Pekka Rinne. The Predators goalie was in good form last night, gloving 28 of the 30 shots with almost otherworldly ease. Edmonton’s lines looked like a tween John Connor facing down the Terminator every time they got near Nashville’s net.
Another force to be reckoned with last night was Predonator, er, Predators right wing James Neal. The 28-year-old Whitby, Ontario, native scored his sixth NHL career hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers. Neal found the back of the Oilers’ net once every period with assists from Bitetto and Johansen in the first, Weber and Jarnkrok less than a minute into the second, and Ekholm and Jarnkrok a little past the four-minute mark of the third.
One can’t help but wonder if there was some discussion on the charter that ended with Neal saying, “I got this.” Maybe other Predators could or should have scored, but then that would have been kicking the team at the bottom of the conference when they were down, which would have been kind of mean. The boys and girls in the press box rewarded Neal and Jankrok with first and second stars of the game. The third star went to Oiler Leon Draisaitl. Maybe it should have gone to Predators pipes specialist Pekka Rinne, but that would go back to the issues of beating the bottom team in the conference, being a good winner, yadda, yadda, yadda, so giving all the stars to Nashville would have been kind of mean.
No one at the Oilers camp handed out juice boxes and told everybody to pile into mom’s Subaru for a trip to Chuck E. Cheese. If what Zack Kassian had to say on the Oilers’ official podcast is any indication, St. Louis has their work cut out for them when they face the continually improving Edmonton club on March 18.
“Losing this one is not a good feeling. We’ve got a big opponent coming in a day and we need to be ready to work.”
An added wrinkle to all of this was the sense of closure for both teams. This is the Oilers’ final season at Rexall Place before moving into their new arena, so every last match with an opponent on home ice feels a bit like another stitch being cast off a scarf. The Nashville Predators left the central Alberta City with points to keep their playoff chances healthy, and the Oilers went home with a loss that was closer to the bitter end of bittersweet.
[Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]