Sloppy Oilers no match for surging Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. — They hold the Minnesota State Fair here in St. Paul every summer, a massive affair that at one time was the second largest US State Fair behind only Texas.

There, after gazing upon the winners for Minnesota’s fattest pig, most handsome rooster and the most productive dairy cow in the state, you can nosh on about 50 different delicacies served “on a stick” — from tasty pickerel to deep fried Mars bars.

Well, make the Edmonton Oilers No. 51.

The Oilers were skewered 5-1 Tuesday by the Wild, on a night where we got a close look at what happens when you play loose and lazy against an elite National Hockey League team.

“Definitely not what we wanted to sweat tonight,” said Evander Kane, who capped his night with a misconduct in a tussle with Ryan Hartman that was stymied by an overzealous linesman. “The goals that they scored, a great majority we handed to them. It definitely didn’t feel as lopsided as the score indicates. But at the same time, we can’t be giving up those type of opportunities to teams that can capitalize.”

Edmonton’s blue-line pair of Evan Bouchard and Duncan Keith took home the blue ribbon for “Most Generous Defencemen,” giving enough pucks away to combine on a minus-7 on the night. They took turns making the wrong decision with the puck, and unfortunately could not count on the forwards to mop up the mess.

Of course, Zach Hyman reminds that — had the forwards done their jobs better — those giveaways may have instead been tape-to-tape passes.

“There’s holding a guy up and allowing your D to have an extra second,” began the eloquent Hyman. “There are little plays that probably go unnoticed from above that can help our D in different scenarios. When you feel like you’re on an island, it’s easier to make mistakes than it is when you feel like you’re being supported.

“As a group, we have to be better and take care of each other. If somebody makes a mistake you can be in a position to back them up so it’s not a goal.”

Make no mistake—Minnesota is good. Very good.

They are big, very fast, and toss the puck around in the offensive zone similarly to the best-in-the-West Colorado Avalanche. And the Wild may have better goaltending — Cam Talbot was stellar on Tuesday, with Marc-Andre Fleury on the bench.

The Wild swept Edmonton this season and it wasn’t close, winning by scores of 4-1, 7-3 and 5-1.

“Not our finest hour,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft, who swapped his right wingers around in an attempt to breathe some life into the offense. “Just trying to find a spark. We didn’t get what we wanted there.”

The Wild are 13-2-3 in their last 18 games and look like a serious contender in the Central. Their Kryptonite is the St. Louis Blues however, who are locked in as their first-round opponent.

The Wild struggled against the bruising Blues, but took advantage of the not-so-bruising Oilers, pressing the Edmonton defense and reaping the turnovers that ensued. If styles make the fight, this is a super-heavy versus a middleweight when these teams play this season.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best in any of the games we’ve played them,” refuted Hyman. “It’s not like we came into any of the games and left feeling good about ourselves. We have to play well. That’s all it comes down to — executing.”

Jesse Puljujarvi opened on Tuesday where he had left off Saturday, failing to convert on two early chances that could have — should have — got this road trip started on the right foot for Edmonton. Instead, the Wild scored first when Keith made a massive mistake, passing the puck right to Frederick Gaudreau in the slot.

Gaudreau surprised Mikko Koskinen on a goal that simply can’t happen — from full possession to “in your net” in about four seconds.

From there, the Wild didn’t own possession all night by any means. The shots on goal were 28-23 for Edmonton.

But when the Oilers surrendered a chance, it was AAA meat.

“I didn’t think we leaked a whole bunch of chances, or we were spending (tons) of time in our own end,” Woodcroft said. “I’d say our breakout execution and our net play has to get a whole lot better especially against a team of that caliber.”

This one ended in surly fashion, with Hartman jumping into the pile to take a crack at Kane, who had come to the defense of Kailer Yamamoto. The linesman prevented Kane and Hartman from setting their score, and after giving Kane the ol’ middle finger in front of 19,035 fans, Hartman stuck the knife in post-game.

“It goes to show, we had five guys in there. They didn’t have one guy in there to help him,” Hartman said of Kane. “I don’t think any of their guys are going to defend him.”

Hartman said if he’s fined for his gesture, it’ll be “well worth it.”

Kane smiled when asked about Hartman.

“These little guys, they want to act tough. But they wait for the linesman to come in.”

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