Crunch time: Edmonton Oilers must reset quickly after another blowout loss to Wild

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Game Day 75: Edmonton at Nashville

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It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Edmonton Oilers, who play a second straight road game against a Central Division playoff contender when they take on the Predators in Nashville on Thursday night.

Things didn’t go well for the Oilers in the opener of this two-game trip as they dropped a convincing 5-1 decision to the Minnesota Kryptonite Wild on Tuesday night. The Wild had previously thumped the Oil twice in Edmonton by counts of 4-1 and 7-3 before completing the sweep of the season series in their own barn with yet a third one-sided win.

To make matters worse, every other Western Conference club in the playoff race harvested at least one standings point from a busy Tuesday night slate, and most of them got two. It was a tough night all the way around for Edmonton.

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In a game that had precious little drama about its outcome, Tuesday’s encounter did boil over in the third period when Oilers forward Evander Kane came to bat for teammate Kailer Yamamoto who was on the receiving end of some stick work from Jonas Brodin, Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov in rapid succession. Yamamoto gave back as good as he got, but when Kaprizov laid a late crosscheck on him, Kane responded in kind on the Minnesota star, prompting an immediate team meeting by the Wild at center ice.

At one point (pictured) it was 5-on-2 with every Minnesota skater challenging Kane, while Yamamoto was his only teammate in frame. The other three Oilers on the ice — Ryan McLeod, Tyson Barrie and Brett Kulack — arrived on the scene a couple of seconds later. Not exactly Murderers’ Row on the ice for either team, but things got pretty heated for a while there as Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman literally jumped into the fray to challenge Kane, with a fight between the two prevented by a single linesman.

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Things didn’t stop there as an enraged Hartman flipped the bird at Kane while the two were being escorted from the ice.

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That rather public display of petulance — perhaps the most brazen on-ice example of the middle-finger salute by an NHL player since Andrew Ference’s “equipment malfunction” at Bell Center back in 2011 — would subsequently cost Hartman a $4,250 fine, the old reliable “maximum allowable under the CBA”. He might, however, ultimately come out ahead after Minnesota fans started crowdfunding to pay it off. Hockey fans — gotta love ’em.

Hartman had no regrets after the fact, saying the fine was “well worth it” while adding a gratuitous shot across the bow of the Oilers as a whole. Said Hartman:

“He gave Kirill a shot from behind on a very vulnerable spot. It goes to show we have five guys in there, they didn’t have one guy in there to help him. I don’t think any of their guys are going to defend him.”

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The video evidence (first tweet below) suggests the “shot from behind” was in fact from the front, and that Yamamoto joined Kane right in the thick of things from the get-go. It sure did take a few seconds before the last three Oilers joined the fray, however, a situation that had some local pundits expressing concern on the age-old but somehow evergreen subject of team toughness.

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One guy who showed plenty of fight was coach Jay Woodcroft, who became enraged when Minnesota emerged from the fracas with a man advantage, with no penalties called on either Zuccarello or Kaprizov despite obvious stick fouls on Yamamoto. As the second clip above shows, the normally urbane bench boss went off on ref Brian Pochmara at the Edmonton bench, delivering a few well-chosen epithets in the process.

This observer didn’t mind that at all. The coach had every reason to be upset with the performance of his own club by that point, but he transferred that energy into the tirade at the officials. In the process he went to bat for his team while showing no signs of quit despite the 5-1 scoreline.

Now it’s the team’s job to go to bat for the coach by delivering a heckuva lot better game in Music City than they did in the Twin Cities. They set to work on that assignment with a solid practice in “Smashville” on Wednesday.

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Afterwards, Woodcroft addressed the subject of the week when he answered a few questions about Jesse Puljujarvi desde sportsnet‘s Mark Spector in his usual upbeat fashion, delivering a spirited defense of his player without throwing any shade at the reporter.

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No definitive word as yet as to any changes in the line-up, lines or pairings. We will update this space once that information leaks out from the morning skate.

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