November 24 2008 07:26PM
If the Edmonton Oilers can't get it done in the next 20 games, then they likely can't get it done at all, and owner Daryl Katz should take a look at why that's the case and who's responsible.
When you look at the next stretch, it's as simple as that from where I sit. There's no ridiculous schedule, like the 14 road games the Oilers played in their first 20 outings on the way to a 9-9-2 record. There's no Murderer's Row in terms of opponents. Quite the contrary.
Between Wednesday's game against Los Angeles and Jan. 9, when they close out the next 20-game stretch against San Jose, the Oilers have 13 games at home and get a steady diet of teams they should get fat on.
They play the Vancouver Canucks, who just lost Roberto Luongo for as long as five weeks, four times. They play the Dallas Stars, who just lost captain Brenden Morrow for the season with a knee injury, three times.
They play the Kings twice and St. Louis, Phoenix and Colorado—all teams below them in Western Conference standings—once each. They play the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators, a trio of teams that, as of today, are out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
Would anything less than reasonable facsimile of an encore of the hair-on-fire stretch drive of last season—a 14-5-1 record over their final 20 games—be palatable to Katz?
I'm guessing not.
The Oilers finished their first 20 games 7-7-0 on the road and 2-2-2 at home, a skein marked by three straight losses at Rexall Place. While .500 on the road is OK, that doesn't cut it at home. Not even close.
"We haven't been playing up to our potential," Sam Gagner told me after today's morning skate. "It's got to be better.
"The good thing for us is we know we're going to be better. There’s a confidence in this room that we're going to be more successful."
Given all the negatives, it's somewhat remarkable the Oilers are .500 as they begin the next stretch.
For the most part, Erik Cole and Dustin Penner have been awful. Gagner has struggled mightily. Shawn Horcoff hasn't done enough. The penalty killing has been abysmal. GM Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe haven't been able to move a goaltender to get down to two.
There's been a total lack of continuity with the forward lines because, outside of Ales Hemsky, nobody has played well enough long enough to convince an impatient Craig MacTavish to keep them together.
Still, there is hope, I think, because it's difficult to imagine Cole and Penner being less effective. Penner will get another shot alongside Horcoff and Hemsky against the Kings. Likewise, Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson, the Kid Line, will be reunited Wednesday.
On the clock
The Oilers insist the bar has been set higher and that they've under-achieved. While I'm not sure about that, being the Mr. Poopy Pants who picked them to finish ninth—I had them pegged at 8-10-2 at this point—Katz, who was at the rink this morning and has the only opinion that really matters, expects results.
"There's lots of room for improvement," MacTavish said.
"If we get through the next stage of our season and develop the way we should and get the results we expect of ourselves, it would be very easy to look back and say, 'What was everybody so upset about?' We've got to see that game."
And if we don't? I didn't talk to Katz today—although I can tell you he is squarely in MacTavish's corner—but it stands to reason the same old, same old won't please the boss. If the Oilers don't play well above .500 in the next 20 games, I'd imagine he'll want to know why.
As he should.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.