November 21 2008 12:03PM
"A lot of previous years, I'm trying to generate optimism and enthusiasm, but this year I'm probably more interested in quelling it a little bit."
"I can't remember a period over the last 15 years where we've been so excited . . . this is the best chance we've had in a long time to win the division . . . it's a very achievable goal. Young players have developed. Now we have lots of depth at virtually every position . . . we have a real good chance to do some great things this year."
So, was that a meteor in the sky Thursday or Craig MacTavish's lofty pre-season expectations hurtling to the muskeg on fire like a burnt weenie at a barbecue gone wrong after watching his Oilers get outclassed -- forget the 4-3 score -- by the Detroit Red Wings at Rexall Place? And, who says MacT has lost the dressing room? We're only 20 games into the season and the players have jumped onside with their coach in putting an end to talk this team has the combination of physical talent AND mental make-up to be a real contender in the Western Conference.
Consider it quelled.
HERE WE ARE
At 9-9-2 through 20 games, the Oilers are right about where I thought they'd be in terms of record and the standings when I looked at them in pre-season. Given their schedule -- 14 of 20 games on the road so far -- and line-up changes, I didn't expect anything more at this point, although most fans were more optimistic.
How the Oilers got here, though, is surprising. After a misleading 4-0 start and with parade route planners looking down their noses at doomsayers who didn't see a Northwest Division title in the cards, the Oilers had a chance to not only survive the schedule-maker's handiwork, but hit the quarter-pole smelling like roses. But noooooooo.
With five days before they face Los Angeles, the stench wafting through Rexall Place has everybody checking the bottom of their shoes, expecting to have to scrape something off. With MacTavish sounding more frustrated by the day and having called out individual players -- hello, Dustin Penner, Shawn Horcoff and Mathieu Garon -- and his team in general for lack of jam and gamesmanship, I'm guessing that aroma is also filling the nostrils of Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini.
Something has to happen before the Kings come calling Wednesday. Doesn't it?
- This team, as MacTavish alluded to Thursday night, is way too soft and too easy to play against. Being a nasty bunch of SOBs isn't a matter of size, it's a state of mind, so there's no excuses, even with smaller players in the line-up. The next time Ales Hemsky gets planted into the end boards, a response, like maybe a punch in the mouth, might be an idea. Stink-eyes and name-calling doesn't get it done.
Then, there's the concept of actually initiating that kind of stuff instead of just reacting. No? More guys need to show some brass, and they need to do so before Steve MacIntyre's broken face heals.
- Please, pick two goaltenders and stick with them. Decide which one is your starter and which is your back-up. Garon and Dwayne Roloson. Jeff Deslauriers and Garon. Roloson and Deslauriers. Flip a coin. Pick a pair. Three's a crowd. It's not stop-the-presses stuff.
- There's no excuse, none, for the way the Oilers have started too many games and Thursday's loss was a prime example. Spot the Cup champs a 3-0 lead? What could go wrong? The Oilers have been outscored 18-10 in first periods. Brutal. Wake up.
- Outside of Hemsky, there isn't a top-six forward playing well enough to merit top-six minutes. That's five guys, with Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Penner being the most obvious, getting sugar time without earning it most nights. Either the situation changes or the personnel does.
- Given pre-season expectations and that Daryl Katz is now endorsing the cheques, what's the over/under on MacTavish's tenure if the Oilers don't start to climb above the .500 mark and stay there? And, no, 2007 doesn't count as a prediction.
- Bizarre as it sounds, is it too much to ask that defencemen, well, play defence? That right wingers play right wing instead of left wing or center? I know Laddy Smid longs for the Art Ross Trophy, but, like my mom used to say, "There's a place for everything and everything in its place."
- Not that it had any impact whatsoever, but whose idea was it to claim Jesse Boulerice off waivers in the first place? No, really. Was this a collaborative brain cramp or somebody's singular epiphany? Who?
- Just a thought, but with all the concern about a tough schedule to start the season, is anybody else concerned the Oilers have blown off too many of the few games they've had at home? Fellas, 2-2-2?
- Penalty killing. When does that start?
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260