EDMONTON — Faceoffs, goaltending and defensive zone play.
The Philadelphia Flyers were better in all areas Wednesday, and yes, the better team won, as Edmonton dropped its first game of the 2021-22 season with a 5-3 home loss.
Let’s start in goal, where the surging Mikko Koskinen turned back into a pumpkin in his third consecutive start. He gave up a goal on a puck-handling error, allowed one with 0.7 seconds left in the first period, and let the winner leak through his legs in a tie game, just over four minutes into the third period.
With No. 1 Mike Smith hurt, Koskinen may have to go again in Vancouver on Saturday night. Can he bounce back?
“I think he’ll bounce back. He’s played well this year,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “There was one outside the net he’d like to have back, and one inside the net he’d probably like to have back. That being said, we had enough chances to have a chance to win the game, and we didn’t do it.”
This was one of those games, with two good teams both playing well. A cheap goal at one end, and Carter Hart at the other, playing outstanding in the Philly nets, and that’s all the Flyers needed to be one goal better (with an empty netter to top it off).
You can’t beat brilliance with mediocrity, and while the Flyers were getting A-plus goaltending, Edmonton received something in the B-minus range. Lots of good stops by Koskinen, but two freebies was one too many in a game played at this level.
“I liked parts of our game,” said Connor McDavid, who had a goal and an assist for his sixth straight multi-point game this young season. “I thought we played real quick. We had our looks. Maybe we could have defended a little better, but it is hockey and they are going to get chances. I thought we did a pretty good job, just obviously not enough to win.”
Look, you don’t get to win every night, and Edmonton was due for a setback. There is a fine line between being fast and creative, and being fast and loose. The Oilers have wavered between the two this season and no doubt will over 82 games.
But sometimes it’s the guts of the game that get you, like goaltending and faceoffs, where the Flyers won 58 per cent of the draws — particularly down the stretch in the third period. The Oilers could not forge a comeback because they could not find a way to start with the puck.
“They have great centremen and they are strong-side protected, almost every line,” McDavid said. “They are a good unit. I thought we dug in, but obviously they got the better of us on the dot.”
“We keep different stats than the NHL stats, but we were trying to win draws at key times of the game and we weren’t getting those pucks,” admitted Tippett. “They’ve got a couple of pretty good guys — (Sean) Couturier and (Claude) Giroux on the right and left side are pretty strong.
“It was like the game. It was a competitive area of the game.”
What can you say about a team that comes out of the gates at 5-0, then loses a t-3 nail-biter at home? There is nothing to panic about here, and no reason for any kind of shakeup heading into Vancouver on Hockey Night in Canada.
This was a game where, for whatever reason, Jesse Puljujarvi couldn’t bury one of his handful of good scoring chances. Where the power play could not finesse one past Hart, who had a stellar night coming in his hometown after getting pulled in his first career start here a couple of years ago.
Where the third line went a rare game without chipping in a goal, even though Zach Hyman continued his goal-a-game pace with No. 6 on the season.
It was the first time these two clubs have met in NHL action since Oct. 8, 2019, and a crowd of 14,328 — more than 4,000 shy of a sellout — got its money’s worth.
Wow, was that a fun hockey game to watch — no matter who you were cheering for.
“I thought we played our best period in the third when the game was on the line and we found a way to get two points in a very tough environment,” said Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault.
“Our second period was arguably out best period of the year,” countered Tippett. “A couple of mistakes, a couple of bad bounces, and we’re chasing the game. And once they got the lead in the third they shut it down pretty good.
“We played fast, created a lot of chances. But we didn’t capitalize on enough of them.”
And so we can declare: The Edmonton Oilers won’t go unbeaten this season.