NEW YORK — The Edmonton Oilers are frustrated. Hiding it isn’t a reality any longer.
“It’s affecting our play now,” defenseman Cody Ceci said.
The Oilers lost their fourth straight game Monday, 4-1 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. They’re 0-2-2 during the skid and 2-8-2 in their past 12 games.
They had the best points percentage in the NHL before playing at the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 3; now they’re 16th. They’re fourth in the eight-team Pacific Division, seven points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for first place.
“It’s easy to play when you’re confident and winning and it gets tougher when you’re going through something like this,” Ceci said. “We’ve got guys in and out of the lineup, we’re not sure who’s playing, it’s just a frustrating time. We can’t make any excuses. We’re the only ones that can do it and pull ourselves out of this one.”
For 21 games the Oilers played confidently, with an expectation to win, and they did, a lot, going 16-5-0 through Dec. 1 with a top-ranked power play (35.9 percent) and fourth-ranked penalty kill (87.7 percent).
Their confidence has eroded in the past month. Their goaltending has struggled and their special teams have leveled off, a market correction coach Dave Tippett said he knew was coming but thought the Oilers would be able to handle better than they have.
Edmonton’s power play is converting at 19.4 percent in the past 12 games, including 0-for-4 in the first four games of a five-game road trip that concludes Wednesday at the Toronto Maple Leafs. The penalty kill has a 69.4 percent success rate over the same span and has allowed a power-play goal in each of the past four games.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the top two scorers in the NHL with 53 and 52 points, respectively, have been held off the score sheet together in four of the past 12 games; it happened once in the Oilers’ first 21 games.
“Special teams were historically high early, you knew they were going to come down,” Tippett said. “The crazy thing about it is our 5-on-5 play has actually been better the last stretch and we’re not getting any puck luck around the net. It’s a combination of both. We were outscoring our mistakes early, now we’ve lessened some of those mistakes and our save percentage as a group is down and our goal scoring is down.”
The Oilers were hoping goalie Mike Smith‘s return after the holiday break would make a significant difference and help Mikko Koskinen, who played 17 of the 26 games Smith missed with a lower-body injury.
Smith instead allowed 10 goals in two starts before being shelved again with an upper-body injury. Koskinen started the past two games, allowing seven goals on 57 shots, including four on 28 against the Rangers in a performance Tippett was quick to criticize.
“Our goaltender wasn’t very good,” the coach said.
He did not mince words when asked about Koskinen’s decision to attempt to play the puck behind the net before it got into the trapezoid in the first period. Rangers center Ryan Strome got to it first, and Koskinen was caught behind the net when Strome delivered a pass to forward Alexis Lafreniere cutting into the middle. Lafreniere scored into the empty net to give New York a 1-0 lead at 5:25.
“It’s a brutal mistake,” Tippett said.
Koskinen, Smith and Stuart Skinner have combined for an .876 save percentage in the past 12 games. Koskinen has allowed 24 goals in his six starts for a 3.99 goals-against average and .866 save percentage. Oilers goalies had a .918 save percentage through the first 21 games.
Ceci said the stretch has had an impact on team chemistry.
“It’s definitely affecting the mood of players,” he said. “When you start getting down on yourself you get frustrated with teammates and whatnot, we’ve got to do the best we can to get over that. I think a win will go a long way for this group. We started the year off really well, so we know we can do it. We just need to get back to that.”
The game at Toronto on Wednesday will be televised nationally in Canada (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, ESPN+, NHL LIVE). A lot of eyeballs will be fixated on that game, especially with McDavid going up against Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who has 20 goals in 28 games.
A win would be a great pressure release for the Oilers, exactly, as Ceci said, what they need before an 11-day break between games.
A loss and criticism will mount with the frustration.
“There’s a lot of adversity here,” Tippett said. “We’re learning a lot about our team.”