In the standings, all losses look the same — a capital L where a W should be.
Over the past four games, the Edmonton Oilers have found many ways to underachieve. But Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes may be the one, so far, that hits the team hardest.
This one will sting like a paper cut.
Because on a night when the Oilers out-worked and out-shot their opponent 51-21, they were let down by uncharacteristic mistakes by players they have come to rely on most.
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"We have moments when we're brain dead," coach Todd McLellan said after the game. "It's obvious that some of our go-to guys are struggling right now."
One of those go-to guys, captain Connor McDavid, offered a similar assessment.
"You live and breathe with your top guys," said McDavid, who hasn't scored since his hat trick in the season opener against Calgary. "And those are the guys who've got to get it done."
With backup Laurent Brossoit getting his first start of the season, the Oilers goaltending was sub-par and the top defensive pair had a rough night.
With four losses in a row, fans who've grown increasingly restless will have more opportunities to second-guess, more reasons to complain.
"I'm sure there'll be doubters now," McDavid said. "But we still believe in this room, obviously. It's a little bit magnified, because it's the first five games."
For a team already under pressure, the game started in the worst way possible.
With the Oilers pressing to forecheck in the Canes' zone, defenceman Oscar Klefbom pinched in and got caught, creating a two-on-one the other way. Twenty seconds was all it took for the first shot to beat Brossoit.
"We're hesitant," McLellan said later. "We're making poor reads. Twenty seconds into the game and we're pinching, and we've got no coverage because we lost a guy behind the net."
Things went downhill from there.
A bad penalty for too many men on ice. The Oilers killed it without allowing a shot.
'We're hesitant. We're making poor reads.' - Todd McLellan, Oilers coach
Then forward Patrick Maroon, frustrated at a non-call by the referee, took a dumb penalty for interference away from the play. The Canes made the Oilers pay, when Teuvu Teravainen scored his second of the game.
Asked about Maroon's penalty, McLellan said: "I didn't like it. Four minutes in, we've made enough mistakes to get ourselves in a hole 2-0, and it's a tough fight back from there."
Tough indeed. The biggest cheers early on from the Rogers Place crowd were reserved for the maniacal guy who danced to the strains of Mony Mony while he peeled off orange Oilers T-shirts and tossed them into the crowd. You wonder if he hands out more shirts when the home team is losing?
The next misstep came with the home team on the penalty kill again. This time Oilers D-man Adam Larsson got himself way out of position when he chased the puck out close to the blue line. That left his partner, Oscar Klefbom, alone to deal with a two-on-one in front of the net.
One pass, one shot, another goal, 3-0.
The Oilers worked hard for much of the night but kept hurting themselves with mistakes.
They fired pucks from everywhere. But their efforts weren't rewarded until Mark Letestu scored on the team's 31st shot of the game. The power-play goal, his first of the season, made it 3-1 Hurricanes.
As the minutes ticked by, the Oilers continued to blast pucks at Canes goalie Cam Ward. It seemed that if they just kept shooting, something was bound to go in.
'It's getting a little frustrating'
Early in the third, the Oilers had long-since seized the momentum. They were again on the power play. Milan Lucic took a pass at the blue line and played it across to Klefbom. With the pass in his skates, Klefbom misplayed it and Canes centre Jordan Staal grabbed the puck, skated the length of the ice, and put the game all but out of reach.
"If we'd have kept it at three, I think we were in a good position to get back in the hockey game," Letestu said. "Right now we're giving away opportunities … and it's costing us."
There were bright spots. One came on the same power play, when Oilers winger Ryan Strome tipped a point shot past Ward to make it 4-2.
Strome wasn't finished there.
Fans have been critical of the winger since he came over from the New York Islanders in a controversial off-season trade for Jordan Eberle.
The newcomer earned some fan love when he broke in on another rush and was shoved to the ice but managed to stay with the puck. From his knees, Strome made a wonderful behind-the-back pass that Lucic fired into the net to bring the Oilers within a goal.
"In the third period we came out with a chance to get back in the game, and we did," Strome said afterward. "So I guess those are the little things you can build on. I think we're doing a lot of good things, and then we give up goals at the wrong times. We outshoot a team more than two to one and we lose the game. So, it's getting a little frustrating."
The Lucic goal, his first of the season, gave the Oilers renewed hope.
But that was quickly dashed.
Halfway through the period, Canes defenceman Jacob Slavin joined a rush that caught two Oilers defenders bunched together between the face-off circles in front of their net. His goal made it 5-3.
The Oilers hit the road now for three crucial games in Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If they lose those three, a team that started last season 7-1 will see its record fall to 1-7.
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