ANAHEIM — There was little in the way of confetti, celebration or pageantry at Honda Center on New Year’s Eve as the Ducks were defeated handily by the Edmonton Oilers, 7-2, on Sunday night.
In two games against the Oilers this season, the Ducks have been outscored 15-4. Edmonton has won five straight games and 13 of its past 16. The Ducks have lost four of five so far on their eight-game homestand and 17 of their past 21 overall.
This was a matchup of a rebuilding club and a surging opponent with refreshed designs on winning a Stanley Cup title. While the 8-2 thumping in Edmonton on Nov. 26 was doomed by turnovers and instantaneous errors, Sunday’s game was lost in the trenches.
“They’re going to get chances, they’re really good. The correctable piece of it is, why are we leaving the front of our net when the puck’s below the goal line? They had seven tonight, I believe five of them [had a defender leave the front of the net],” Ducks coach Greg Cronin said.
Max Jones and Frank Vatrano scored for the Ducks, and John Gibson had to muddle through 60 minutes and made 32 saves.
Warren Foegele enjoyed a career night with two goals and three assists. Connor McDavid produced a relatively quiet evening with one assist but Foegele’s linemates Leon Draisaitl and Ryan McLeod each had a goal and combined for three assists to give their trio an even 10 points. Evander Kane scored after missing Saturday’s shootout win over the Kings with a lower-body injury. Brett Kulak and Zach Hyman also scored a goal apiece while Darnell Nurse contributed two assists. Backup goalie Calvin Pickard made 28 saves.
The Ducks clawed back a goal 4:49 into the final frame. Edmonton tried to exit their zone but Alex Killorn’s keep-in gave him possession of the puck with every defender out of position. He located Vatrano in the slot for his team-topping 17th goal of 2023-24.
They had been invigorated by a fight before Vatrano’s goal between Ryan Strome and Mattias Ekholm, which saw the smaller Strome land some big punches.
Yet a defensive miscue during a partial line change gave that goal back to the Oilers exactly four minutes after Vatrano tallied. As McDavid hit the blue line, both defenders shaded his side, leaving Hyman wide open to glide in on goal for a wrist shot marker. Precisely seven minutes later, Kulak piled on another insurance goal.
“Ryan Strome had a heck of a fight and did a good job. I thought we got some energy when it was 5-2 and then we had a complete breakdown on the rush,” Cronin said. “We had two defensemen standing right next to each other and we let a guy go in on a breakaway, that’s just not focusing.”
The third period was academic in terms of the score but not the scoring nor the animosity. Trevor Zegras speared McLeod before Draisaitl took Zegras down from behind in the melee that ensued after Kulak’s goal.
Edmonton – which has won 15 of 21 games since Kris Knoblauch took over as coach – had cracked the game open in the second period, tacking on three more goals and tilting the contest territorially.
“We came out in the second period flat-footed, and they came out flying,” Cronin said.
Just 1:48 into the period, Draisaitl scored off a one-timer from nearly parallel to the goal line.
“We had a guy standing within the coverage area of Draisaitl and when he scored the goal, we were just puck-staring. Then we got stage fright, I thought,” Cronin said.
“We just kind of stood around and watched them skate around our zone. We didn’t stop progress, we didn’t get out to shooting lanes, we didn’t stop their movement at the blue line, and you can’t play a team like that flat-footed.”
At the 4:16 mark, the Ducks had technically just killed a penalty but conceded a goal an instant after it expired when Foegele redirected a Nurse pass to finish a tic-tac-toe play.
Foegele deposited his second goal of the game and seventh of the season at 11:43, off a play where Draisaitl threatened with a shot off the rush before a recovered puck and a pass from below the end line set up another redirection tally.
“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and linemates. We were moving the puck well, taking it to the net and we were fortunate enough with a couple of bounces,” Foegele said.
The opening period saw multiple momentum swings, with the Ducks falling down by a goal, mounting a significant shot advantage, scoring an equalizer and drawing a penalty. That positive momentum was quelled by an unsuccessful power play and a thrilling moment for the hosts that turned into a fluky go-ahead goal for the visitors.
Gibson made a challenging pad save on Draisaitl’s one-timer from the slot, but Foegele recovered the puck behind the net and fed McLeod in front for a redirection goal 4:15 into the match.
Just 4:55 later, the Ducks drew even when Zegras made a blind pass behind him from the rear wall, finding Strome in front for a shot that generated a rebound and a putback tally for Jones, his fourth goal of the season.
“Z made a great pass to Stromer, Stromer had some great patience and then I came off the wall first and got to the front of the net to pick up the loose change,” said Jones, who had initially won the puck on the forecheck.
The Ducks later earned a power play but just a minute after they came up empty with the extra man, calamity befell them in a sequence that was emblematic of the more frustrating moments of their season to date.
First, Radko Gudas, who returned from a lower-body injury, buried McDavid with a two-armed check that felled the Oilers captain. The enthusiasm proved fleeting when Brock McGinn’s rim-around pass hit the referee’s skate, bounced to Kane for a wraparound attempt and then banked into the net off of Ducks forward Adam Henrique’s foot.
“A hundred percent, it was very unfortunate, I thought we were playing a pretty good game at the start,” Gudas said. “A couple bounces didn’t go our way, but that should not be an excuse for us to play like that to play like that for the remainder of the game.”