TULSA, OK — The headline reads the month of February, but the problem actually extends back to the start of the calendar year 2017.
The problem: The Tulsa Oilers, once a dominant team in the ECHL this season, has won only four times since the year began. It goes without saying that’s not good, but it is raising the possibility of the Oilers missing the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs.
The schedule has not favored the Oilers thus far in 2017. Home heavy to start the season, lately the club hasn’t been at home very much since the turn of the New Year. That, along with the usual mid-season spate of injuries and call-ups by the parent club in Manitoba has left head coach Jason Christie searching for answers as the regular season rounds the turn towards the playoffs.
February started off slow for the Oilers with three games facing the Allen Americans. The Oilers dropped two to the Americans by the scores of 5-1 and 6-2, but upon their return home for the beginning of the eight-game homestand, the Oilers handed Allen an 8-5 defeat.
It was a back and forth contest with Darcy Murphy starting the scoring for Tulsa before Gary Steffes tied the game just over a minute later. Christophe Lalancette and Garrett Ladd then added back-to-back goals, before Murphy added his second of the night on the power play to make it 4-1. Tanner Eberle closed the gap for Allen before the first break.
Ladd got the second goal on a power play and Danick Paquette also got one on the man-advantage in the second period. Dmitri Ognev added a score in the frame to push Tulsa’s lead to 7-2 after two.
The Americans cut into the lead in the third with goals from David Makowski and Spencer Asuchak in the first 5:17, but Tyson Fawcett provided some insurance for the Oilers with the team’s eighth goal. Eric Roy finished the scoring for Allen, but the Oilers completed the high-scoring victory.
The win snapped a seven-game losing skid for Tulsa and it was a huge moral victory for the club, who had been playing rather disorganized and individualistic hockey for the most part during the losing streak.
From there, it was on to a pair of games with the Missouri Mavericks and the Oilers assumed a similar tactic in game one, playing a physical game with lot of shots, but the Mavs were up to that challenge, waiting for the Oilers to make a mistake and capitalize.
That moment came in the third period’s sixth minute, when Dane Fox saw his opportunity and wrested the disc past Oilers goaltender Colin Stevens to bust the scoreless tie. Fox and Reed Seckel tacked on empty net goals to hand the Tulsa club a disappointing 3-0 shutout victory. The real story of the contest was a 53-save effort by Mavericks goalie Eamon McAdam.
Game two between the clubs came the following night and things started off with a bang. Tulsa tough man Reid Halabi squared off with Jacob Doty in one bout and as the sticks and gloves were settling down from that skirmish, Halabi and Tyler Elbrecht went at it, earning the usual penalties and for secondary altercations the door for Elbrecht and Halabi with game misconducts.
Missouri scored with 15 seconds left to go into the intermission with a one goal lead. Tulsa responded with a Christophe Lalancette goal with seven minutes left in the second period, slipping the disc in off of Dmitri Ognev who served him up a centering pass. Kale Kessy gave Tulsa a 2-1 lead with 1:19 left in the frame when he cashed in on a cross-crease pass from Adam Pleskach.
Radoslav Illo scored twice in the third period once in the third period’s eighth minute and again in the 14th, leaving the Oilers with little else but a furious effort on the power play/extra attacker setup in the game’s dying minutes. In that situation, Danick Paquette was the last stick on a flurry of shots to give the Oilers a goal and tie the game with 1:12 left in regulation to force overtime.
The Mavericks ruined the Oilers attempt at an overtime victory when on an odd-man rush, Dane Fox lifted the puck over Stevens’ glove to end the game with 65 seconds left before the shootout.
The loss drops the Oilers to 24-24-5 with 53 points, good enough for a scant one point lead over the Kalamazoo Wings in the race for the fourth and final playoff position in the ECHL Central Division. They have five games remaining in the home stand before heading off on the road for essentially the entire month of March.
Next weekend is another big one for Tulsa, as they host Rapid City, Indy, and Wichita. Every game is crucial as the games begin to wind down.