Wild can’t take advantage of struggling Oilers, lose 4-1
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Edmonton Oilers played with an edge and an eagerness to snap out of their slump, taking full advantage of a sleepy start by Minnesota.
The Wild sure could use some of that same urgency.
Darnell Nurse gave Edmonton an early boost by scoring 2:15 into the first period, and the Oilers stopped a six-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory Thursday night that sent the Wild to their fourth straight loss.
“We just were hungry,” Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Ty Rattie, Leon Draisaitl and Zack Kassian also scored, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each had two assists, and Cam Talbot bounced back from an early exit with 35 saves for the Oilers, who were just 5-13-2 in their previous 20 games. They squandered a third-period lead in each of those last three losses, and Talbot was pulled Tuesday night against Chicago after giving up three goals in less than six minutes out of the second intermission.
“I thought the guys played hard for him, and he played hard for them,” Hitchcock said. “He’s got a little bit of confidence going right now, so that’s a good sign.”
Talbot won for the first time in four starts since Jan. 10.
“We needed this one. This is a tough building to play in. They usually come out pretty hot,” Talbot said. “Our start was great tonight. We got all over them early, and we did the little things we needed to do to win the hockey game down the stretch.”
The Wild picked up the pace in the second period with a 15-5 shots-on-goal advantage, but they found themselves in a two-goal hole at the second intermission, because of Rattie’s tap-in of a centering feed from Nugent-Hopkins only 4:32 into the middle frame.
Joel Eriksson Ek had the Wild’s lone goal 2:50 into the third period , one encouraging sign for a team that just lost captain, center and defensive stalwart Mikko Koivu to a season-ending knee injury . Eriksson Ek was recalled from the AHL to take Koivu’s place, and coach Bruce Boudreau limited his compliments to Eriksson Ek and fellow youngsters Luke Kunin and Kyle Rau.
As for right wing Mikael Granlund, who has just two goals in his last 37 games?
“I can’t go out there and hang on his back and follow him up like a close-talker and say, ‘Hey, shoot the puck!’ He’s a smart enough player,” Boudreau said.
The Wild, who are clinging to seventh place and the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference, have 57 points for their lowest total at the 54-game mark since the 2005-06 season.
“There’s some guys out there that just are a shell of the players that I’ve known for 2½ years,” Boudreau said.
Minnesota’s momentum from Eriksson Ek’s goal was wiped out less than three minutes later. Jason Zucker checked Edmonton defenseman Kris Russell hard and sent him hurtling face first into the left post, angering the Oilers and drawing an interference penalty the Wild disputed. Twenty seconds into the power play, Draisaitl pushed the lead back to two for his eighth goal in the last six games.
Kassian, who also had an assist, scored on an empty-netter after the puck skipped out to him following a denial of Granlund on the other end by Talbot.
With a snowstorm swirling outside all day and keeping some fans away, the energy in the arena was already substandard. Then the Oilers took the lead on the first shot on goal of the game, when Nurse stepped into a pass from McDavid and let the puck fly from the top of the left circle past goalie Devan Dubnyk’s glove.
“This was the quietest that I’ve heard it in the first period, ever,” Boudreau said, “but we didn’t do anything to excite them, either.”
The Oilers started the day in 12th place, but they’re now only three points behind the Wild, who have yet to make clear to new general manager Paul Fenton whether they’re contenders this season or not.
“Everyone wants to be here in this room and win, but if we keep putting up efforts like this, it’s pretty easy for the GM to make a phone call,” right wing Marcus Foligno said.
Hitchcock was struck by a loose puck on the ear at one point during the game and needed stitches. “My reflexes are a little slower I would say. That’ll teach me for looking for the next lineup change,” he said. … The Oilers made fourth-line center Kyle Brodziak, who has a minus-12 rating, a healthy scratch for just the second time this season and the first since Oct. 11. Rookie Colby Cave replaced him in the lineup. … The Oilers scored 14 goals in three games this season against the Wild, winning two. … Eriksson Ek has three goals in 36 games this season.
Oilers: Return home to face San Jose Saturday night, before beginning a three-game road trip to take on Eastern Conference teams.
Wild: Play at New Jersey Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon in New York against the Islanders.