Oilers throwing away points as defencemen continue to make crucial mistakes


EDMONTON — Another game, and another set of examples of high-profile defencemen making glaring errors in a loss that never should have happened.

This is becoming the story of the 2022-23 Oilers. It’s not that the blueliners are an absolute trainwreck. It’s that they make a few glaring mistakes that bite them right where it hurts — the scoreboard and the standings.

On Thursday, it was No. 1 rearguard Darnell Nurse who made two costly turnovers that highlighted a shootout loss to the Blues.

Though Nurse was the biggest cause of the first goal against on Saturday, it was Evan Bouchard who made a pair of key mistakes that led to a 4-3 defeat to the Ducks — one of the NHL’s worst teams.

“He’s a young D-man who’s going through a stretch where simplicity might be his way out of it, rather than complexity,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Simple plays with the puck. Simple reads with the puck.

“He’s a young man who is learning his way in the National Hockey League. Unfortunately, those chances against ended up in our net, and the margins were thin.”

Bouchard’s first cough-up was a doozy.

He gift-wrapped a breakaway to former Oiler Ryan Strome in the second period when he tried to make a backhanded saucer pass to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the offensive blue line. Strome intercepted the attempted feed, went in all alone and beat Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner.

“The mistakes and turnovers we make are big ones that usually end up, at least right now, in the back of our net,” Bouchard said. “At least for myself, they’re turnovers that need to get cleaned up.”

As egregious as that turnover was, Bouchard goofed big time on the winning goal, too. That was scored by Ducks defenceman John Klingberg 6:08 into the third period. The Oilers had just overcome a two-goal deficit following Bouchard’s error that led to the Strome breakaway marker.

Bouchard made another wayward pass — that Nugent-Hopkins perhaps should have corralled — which resulted in a couple shots from distance for the Ducks. Not a huge deal so far.

But as the puck came to Klingberg along the right sideboards, Bouchard wound up standing right in front of Skinner — when there wasn’t another Duck in sight — and screened his goalie. Bouchard was shoulder-checking, but Strome was behind the net and not really involved in the play.

“I was trying to see if there was a guy going backdoor waiting there,” Bouchard said. “I got out of the way, way too late.”

“I decided to go down and didn’t see the release,” Skinner said. “It caught me by surprise.”

Skinner was quick to point out that he should have made that save. Agree or disagree, that’s still three of the four Anaheim goals that came after Oilers’ errors. Just like how the Blues scored immediately after two Nurse mistakes on Thursday.

Oilers superstar Leon Draisaitl was asked if the Oilers are giving up too many opposition goals lately that aren’t being earned.

“That’s fair,” he said.

And true.

It doesn’t help matters that the Oilers are dealing with some injuries on the blue line.

Philip Broberg was scratched because of an injury sustained in an optional practice on Friday, Woodcroft said. That necessitated the recall of Markus Niemelainen, who played just 9:20 and only 1:08 in the third period.

So, Broberg is banged up and still getting his footing when healthy. Niemelainen remains very much raw. Ryan Murray has been out of action for the last 13 games and apparently isn’t 100 percent either.

Add it all up and it’s clear the Oilers are going to need some reinforcements, especially on the left side of their defence. It’s just that the roster freeze is next Tuesday, and it appears the upgrade won’t come sooner than later. Closer to the March 3 trade deadline is much more realistic.

There appear to be five defencemen the coaching staff trusts to varying degrees — and some of them have noticeably had their struggles recently.

“I’ve seen individual errors that are within control,” Woodcroft said. “How do you eliminate those? You have lots of conversations. There’s video. “But in the end — we talked about this the other day — individually, we can be better in some situations that are within our control.”

Old habits die hard. It meant the Oilers missed out on two points against a team bound for the draft lottery.

That was Anaheim’s third regulation win of the season. In 32 games. The other 60-minute victories came against the Rangers and Canadiens. The Oilers have now joined that dubious group.

Sure, the offence could have stepped it up a bit. Two of their goals came on the power play — one on a two-man advantage — as they went two-for-six in the game. They managed just one five-on-five goal — a point shot from Nurse 5:07 in. They had 49 goals on Ducks third-string goalie Lukas Dostal but could have made life more difficult for him.

“Not over the 60 minutes,” Draisaitl said. “I thought in the third we created numerous chances. We shouldn’t even get to that situation.”

And that’s just it. Three goals for — an off-night for the Oilers — should be enough to beat a crappy opponent with a popgun offence. The Ducks are fourth-last in the NHL in goals for with 77.

The real issue for the Oilers is their defence, though. They’re left to have to outscore their faults — which they couldn’t do on Saturday.

“It feels that way,” Bouchard said. “It’s the mistakes that come off our sticks, my stick, that just can’t happen.”

Again, it wasn’t that the Oilers blueliners were porous. They surrendered just 17 shots on net and 38 attempts throughout the whole game.

Skinner could have played better, but Cam Fowler’s power-play goal from distance was the only one that he can truly be faulted on. The others were a tap-in from Sam Carrick after Nurse turned the puck over and then left the Ducks forward alone in front, and then what transpired because of Bouchard’s boo-boos.

“I don’t find it positive those errors happened, but I find positives in that game — and we’re going to look to accentuate those positives,” Woodcroft said. “In terms of the collective defending, anytime you can hold a team under the amount of shots we held them to, you expect to win the game.

“The big errors we think are within our control and we’ve got to clean them up.”

It’s a case of the Oilers shooting themselves in the foot, which they seem to be doing too much this season. It’s come to a head of late, notably in the last two games against the Blues and Ducks.

It’s costing them games they have no business losing. It’s costing them points in the standings they very much need and shouldn’t be relinquishing.

“It’s frustrating right now,” Draisaitl said.

If these blunders aren’t rectified in the short term, and the roster isn’t improved over the long haul, it’s bound to cost the Oilers in the spring — when things really matter.

“Too many individual mistakes from everyone,” Draisaitl said. “And then we’re maybe a little out of position after that chasing it. We’ve got to clean that up.”

(Photo of Ryan Strome and Evan Bouchard: Jeff McIntosh / Associated Press)


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