SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers lay welcome mats

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Man, when will this godforsaken homestand ever end?

After a seven-game, 14-day road trip that finished a game over .500 and concluded with back-to-back wins in New Jersey and New York, the Oilers couldn't wait to get back to Edmonton.

Unfortunately for a sold-out crowd that hadn't seen the home boys for two weeks, they played like Homers (as in Simpson ... as in slow of foot and not too-smart) instead of the gritty, hard-working, never-say-die visitors who fared so well on that gruelling Eastern swing.

Welcome home.

"We started really well, we were doing everything we wanted to do," said captain Ethan Moreau, whose club was playing at Rexall Place for just the fourth time in 16 games, but not very well in a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"We were competing hard, we were winning a lot of the battles. Then we took some penalties at the start of the second and for some reason we lost our energy and our intensity. They started to compete and they started to win the battles that we were winning in the first."

Playing the dreaded first game back after a long road trip, the Oilers had their legs early, scoring first on Sam Gagner's first of the season at 12:39.

But Toronto, spurred on by thousands of Easterners in Leafs sweaters who came here looking for work in the 80s, fought back in the second period, scoring two power-play goals just 1:45 apart. Tomas Kaberle tied it at 2:47 and Nikolai Kulemin made it 2-1 at 4:32.

"After the first 15 minutes of the first period, we got sloppy," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "We had a really good first 15 minutes, then we can't kill a penalty, they get a couple of power-play goals and tie it."

And the Oilers got stupid. Plain and very simple. And from the second period on it was all Toronto, who outshot their hosts 23-12 over the final 40 minutes.

"It's just the mental mistakes and the stubbornness, I don't get it," said MacTavish. "The same usual things that get us in trouble. The two things that have hurt us all year are penalty killing and high-risk plays at the blue-line, and turnovers. We couldn't get off that game once we started.

"High-risk plays with the puck ... and not so much in the offensive zone, but trying to turn defensive-zone coverage into offence somehow.

"It's just a stubbornness and a virtual lack of reality of what's realistic offensively. It's the same lesson we get beat over the head with time and time again."

The shots were 9-0 Leafs when Ethan Moreau tied it up again, hacking and whacking at a rebound in the slot until whatever was left of the puck crossed the line at 7:24.

But it was clear the Leafs had more jump and weren't going to let this one slip away. Then went up 3-2 after Nik Antropov capped a long Toronto cycle with a shot over Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers' shoulder at 18:59.

But don't blame the rookie goalie, he didn't get any help in his first loss of the year.

"Our breakdowns were similar to the start of the year where the mistakes we made were two-on-ones, leaving guys along in front again," said Moreau. "So the chances that they scored on were good chances."

An Ian White goal five minutes into the third period put it away for good. And another one from Mikhail Grabovski, on the power play, added insult to injury.

The Oilers fell to 8-7-1 with the loss and will play one more home game, tomorrow against Colorado, before going back out on the road for four of their next six.\


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