TORONTO — Getting blown out by the Toronto Maple Leafs was not how the Edmonton Oilers wanted to start a six-game, 10-day road trip. The performance caught coach Todd Nelson off-guard after what he thought amounted to two days of strong preparation.
Perhaps the lack of offence against the Leafs, and a few days earlier in a shutout loss at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, could have been anticipated. The Oilers have been without left-wingers Taylor Hall and Benoit Pouliot, who have combined for almost a quarter of their goals this season.
“That’s an excuse, right? We’re not going to use it, but it is reality: We do miss those guys,” alternate captain Matt Hendricks said Saturday night after the 5-1 loss.
“They play big minutes for us and are big offensive guys for us. But we’ve got to find ways to put pucks in the net.”
Toronto kid Luke Gadzic finally did with 2.3 seconds left, but that only functioned to ruin James Reimer’s shutout bid. It was the only goal in two games without Hall and Pouliot, who each have 11 this season.
Pouliot, out with an undisclosed injury, skated in a track suit by himself at Air Canada Centre Saturday morning and felt “not bad,” according to Nelson. Hall, who has missed five of the past six games with a left ankle injury, isn’t ready to skate yet, the coach said.
It’s unclear if Pouliot will be available for Monday night’s game at the New Jersey Devils, but at least he remains on the road trip. Hall returned to Edmonton on Sunday to undergo more tests, the team said.
Without Hall and Pouliot, the Oilers still should have the offensive talent to put up some goals. Top-line right-winger Jordan Eberle almost scored a couple of times against the Leafs but couldn’t cash in.
“That was one of the more frustrating nights,” Eberle said. “In the second period I had a breakaway to make it 2-1, hit the post, they go down and score. I had a chance in the third period, got hooked a bit and they go down and score again. It wasn’t going in for us and going in for them.”
More of an issue for the Oilers was their defensive play, according to captain Andrew Ference, who wasn’t happy with how he and his teammates were slow to react defensively and didn’t move their feet.
That’s usually not a recipe for success, especially on the road, where Edmonton will be for a while now with games coming up at the Devils, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets.
“You’re playing against good players and you have to do your job and take care of your own game to have a chance,” Ference said. “We didn’t do that. We stood around, we watched, we glided around the ice and they took full advantage of it.”