Oilers’ inability to put 60 minutes together leads to another loss at home

EDMONTON — Three games into a new, supposed-to-be-promising young season, the Edmonton Oilers have held a lead for four minutes and 59 seconds. That’s it, that’s all.

And while the sky is falling one province to the west, with the Vancouver Canucks at 0-3-1 and blowing leads on a nightly basis, here in Northern Alberta the Oilers can’t get the lead, have two points in three games, and welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to Rogers Place on Thursday night.

It’s not time to panic yet, right?

“There is no panic,” assured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, after a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in which Edmonton outshot Buffalo 48-24 on Tuesday. “It is three games in and we have had our chances to win all three. We haven’t got the job done in two of them.”

“We don’t want to be sitting at 1-2, but that being said I don’t think there’s any need to panic,” agreed Connor McDavid. “This group knows how important starts are — not only to games, but to the season — and we haven’t had our best for the first three. But I would expect our best is coming here.”

Positives?

Yes, there were a few.

An Oilers team that had fallen behind by three goals early in both previous games cleaned up its first period, outshooting Buffalo 15-7. But it was a foreshadowing of what was to come, as in the end Edmonton would get goalied by a kid who grew up a big fan of the team his brothers Mike and Paul both played for — Eric Comrie.

They didn’t know it from the start, but this would be a game that the Oilers would have to try to win 2-1, thanks to the Edmonton-born Comrie. Their second period, a sloppy session in which Edmonton gave up way too much, buried them.

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Tage Thompson walked through Darnell Nurse on a beauty solo effort to make it 2-1, then Leon Draisaitl’s pass on a four-man break eluded everyone — except for the two Sabres lingering behind. JJ Peterka beat Stuart Skinner on a breakaway for that third goal that Edmonton simply could not buy.

The Oilers peppered Comrie with 23 third-period shots but scored just once before the Sabres copped an empty-netter.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re in a 2-1 game until it’s too late. On Tuesday, Comrie simply would not allow the Oilers to get to three.

Edmonton has mostly wasted the opening half of its season-opening six-game homestand, going 1-2. Now, the Oilers have to salvage their start to the season against Carolina, St. Louis, then Pittsburgh before hitting the road for a three-game swing.

It’s undeniable that Tuesday’s game was the best effort of the year, but this is a program that is far beyond learning lessons. They’ve been down that road, and this year is supposed to be different.

“Any time you lose, there is no satisfaction in this room. There are no moral victories,” said Nurse. “We are not happy being 1-2 to start the year. We can say all we want, but we have got to come out and show it on the ice.”

In a 1-1 game, the Oilers’ top defenceman bent and then broke, walked by Thompson for a key 2-1 goal.

“I know I would like to take back that goal,” Nurse said.

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This was a game we’ve seen Nurse play before, his willingness to carry his club is something you can see from perhaps the most distant press box in the NHL. You admire the fact he wants to make a difference, but we also know this is a style that seldom accomplishes the desired result.

In the end, Nurse was as dangerous in the offensive end, where he scored the Oilers’ first goal, as he was in his own zone. The Oilers assistant captain was all over the ice, but as often as he was chasing a goal in Buffalo’s zone he was chasing down a Sabre from behind on a breakaway.

I’ve said it before: the best Darnell Nurse doesn’t have to be a constant offensive threat. His greatest value is as a defender, and if he keeps the sheet clean in his own end, there are plenty of teammates who can score goals. In the end, if Nurse has a 25-point season and becomes a premier defender, the Oilers will go further than they will if he roams the way he did on Tuesday night.

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“I would go back to the start of this second period — mistakes that were made, mistakes that were on our tape that are uncharacteristic of us,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “It proved we couldn’t outscore those mistakes, no matter how many shots we poured on their goaltender.

“We feel we’re going to score enough. It’s eliminating some of those errors that led to those goals against,” he continued, ““Where I’m putting our focus is eliminating some of those freebies that I think cost us this game. Those were probably 40 of our best minutes but I don’t think we’ve played a full 60 yet.”

The season is a week old. That could come any time now.

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