The Crying Game

Robin Brownlee
November 07 2008 03:26PM

Even as someone who can piss and moan with the best, it gets sickening listening to the whining and excuses offered up after the Edmonton Oilers 5–4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday.

What was the buzz on the radio, fan boards and websites after the loss? Was it that the Oilers sleepwalked through the first 40 minutes and fell behind 5–0? Uh, no. Was it that the Oilers got the first three power plays of the game and did nothing with them? Nope.

Aside from more brain-dead talk about firing coach Craig MacTavish, the braying was about how referees Kerry Fraser and Gord Dwyer had screwed the Oilers without even kissing them in the third period.

How they'd let that nasty little so-and-so Matt Cooke flatten Tom Gilbert with an elbow and take a run at Sam Gagner. Then, how Fraser and Dwyer threw the book at Theo Peckham, issuing him a two-minute instigator minor, a major for fighting and a misconduct for jumping Cooke, who got only a minor for roughing.

Dirty Deeds

Here's how MacTavish saw it:

"The Matt Cooke incident," MacTavish said. "He leaves his feet. He elbows Gibby in the head. No call. He comes across the ice. He runs Gags. The referees obviously weren't going to protect us in that respect.

"Peckham does what he needs to do and he goes in there. He squares off with Cooke. He gets an instigator, and aggressor, whatever you want to call it and two fives. It's just a bizarre call... we end up losing a bunch of time to get ourselves back even in the hockey game because of a bizarre call."

Cooke's been a cheap player and a hit-and-run coward for a long time, so I get MacTavish's frustration. That frustration, amplified by another loss, spilled over into the post-game show on 630 CHED, where host Dan Tencer railed against the injustice of it all.

Piling on

"How Matt Cooke gets the benefit of the doubt from officiating crew on that and how they put Theo Peckham in the box for a five-minute major penalty is absolutely patently ridiculous," Tencer sniffed.

"Kerry Fraser ought to be embarrassed because that is, again, the most stunningly stupid call," he continued. "I'm holding myself back here because it's family radio."

The sentiment was the same on fan websites—like this one—after the Oilers dropped to 6-6-1 with a second straight loss.

Kevin, right here on ON wrote: "Not to whine, but WTF with the officiating last night? Crosby cross checks Peckham in the face—no call. Souray gets a penalty for roughing a guy who just slashed the goalie. Penner gets 2 for ultimately being stronger than the other player.

"They played horrible for the first 38 minutes but the officiating was downright horrible. Dust yourselves off boys, pull your heads out of your arse, and get back to it!"

Kevin, that IS whining, although Cooke, on past record alone, deserved a major. Maybe Fraz had hair product in his eyes and didn't get a good look at everything. Dwyer?

Less talk more action

Here's a thought—take the referees and bad calls out of the game by playing better. Show up for the opening puck drop. Build leads, then don't toss them back. Show some gamesmanship. Get a clue on the PK.

Had the Oilers done anything on their first three power plays in Pittsburgh, had they not soiled themselves for 40 minutes, we'd have heard less about Cooke. The Oilers went 0-for-4 on the power play and allowed a shorty by Maxime Talbot.

Bad calls happen. In fact, I recall at least two that went the Oilers way the night before in a 5–4 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus, a game worked by Tom Kowal and Chris Ciamaga.

Down 2–0 and then up 4–2 before imploding, the Oilers had two bogus calls go their way in the third period.

It was 4–4 when Jan Hejda got fingered for a phantom hooking call on Robert Nilsson. It remained tied when Marc Methot got tapped for hooking on Shawn Horcoff. The Oilers PP stiffed on both on a night it went 1-for-5. The Blue Jackets were 1-for-6.

By the way, through 13 games this season, the Oilers have been on the power play 56 times, scoring 10 goals. They have been shorthanded 61 times, allowing 15 goals.

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 Travis Dakin
November 07 2008, 03:44PM
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It makes the pain of reality hurt less when we can whine. It can't be the team sucking this bad... It's gotta be someone elses fault. Right? ha

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#2 baggedmilk
November 07 2008, 03:53PM
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Robin, I actually agree with you for once. Take a minute to let that sink in... The bad calls, MacTavish firing rants, this happened that didn't would not have been an issue if the Oilers didn't look like a Bantam B team in the first half. It was by far the worst start to a game that they could have offered while facing a team that good.

What's your thoughts on JDD? Does he get the next start? He looked really solid in the next for the last half of the game.

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#3 Dan Tencer
November 07 2008, 04:11PM
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Just to throw something in before I get thrown under the bus for the millionth time on the internet (much to my amusement, for the most part)...I absolutely did "rail against the injustice" but I was clear that the sequence of events had little to do with the outcome of the game. The missed call and made call were both brutal...but the game was lost in the first 40 minutes.

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#4 Big Deal
November 07 2008, 04:24PM
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How often have we seen the Oilers start slow? 5 games, 6 games. How often does the team need to start poorly before the coaches change something up? Obviously what they are doing is not working. So change...and do it soon. The opposition realizies that the Oilers start slow and are taking advantage of it. The Oilers can't keep spotting the opposition a few goals before they get ready to play.

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#5 Unleaded
November 07 2008, 04:26PM
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I can't say I saw a lot of what happened last night, because I only caught the 3rd. But that was a fun period of hockey.

I would love to see some lines not based on who's the most skilled, but based on who is playing the most consistently good hockey. I really feel bad for MacT because the whole team is so bloody inconsistent, it makes such a strategy impossible. Especially our defense. Several times in the last 2 games I've thought "Wow, Souray is a beast. What a player." Then one bad pinch against the Blue Jackets and he reminds me that he makes the same kind of bad mistakes everyone else on the back end has been making.

Hope JDD gets a lot more starts right now - he's been the most consistent goalie we've seen so far this year.

God, I hope I didn't just jinx that...

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#6 Jerry MacWire
November 07 2008, 06:31PM
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The Oilers only have themselves to blame for the slow start yesterday. Sure refereeing affects the game but before any of that happened you had a bunch of professional athletes that didn't answer the bell in the first round, again. Getting to be an old saw? Sure is and it's no different than how a lot of last year went.

When athletes aren't disciplined or professional enough to take the game seriously for the first twenty minutes, what to do?

Light a fire under the guys. More of like what we saw with benching Nilsson. Sure you have to sit some of your best players but they need to understand as a team that they aren't safe. They aren't secure. I sense a complacency while watching the team play the first period or so.

What do you do when your kids don't listen to you? Well, what do you do?

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#7 hunter1909
November 07 2008, 07:44PM
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No worries. Oilers will fumble and sputter just like they always have since 2000, with a semi-ok shot at making 8th. Certainly no guarantees of reaching it.

The team will keep blowing hot and cold, with the most expensive pluggers in hockey.

A previous poster writes "Light a fire under these guys". Sorry, but that's not on the coach's agenda.

In so many ways, this team perfectly reflects the current state of the franchise, as well as the younger part of it's fanbase.

Oh yeah. Another middle of the pack finish, so let's hope we can get lucky with our probable middle of the pack 1st round pick, assuming we will still have one.

We've been fed the "If only we had the same money to spend as the bigger teams" kool aid. Also the "just wait until the new CBA comes through" carrot on a stick.

At least this year, we don't have to watch as the players get concussed on an ongoing basis, while management scoffs at the idea that the team should need an enforcer.

The temperature of discussing the Oilers has gone higher and higher over the past 8 years, to the point where unless I'm willing to pretend the team isn't in grave peril of another collapse due to a clearly incompetant coach, I'm either called a troll, or worse.

And it stinks.

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#8 jdrevenge
November 07 2008, 07:48PM
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you give them some ice cream

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#9 RobinB
November 07 2008, 09:01PM
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Bagged: I don't know that JDD gets the next start, but with back-to-back games I'd bet he gets one of the two.

Dan: The time you spent on the bad call and non-call by Fraser in the Cooke situation made it far more than a passing comment or an aside to the fact the Oilers blew it in the first 40 minutes. You say you made it clear the events had little to do with the outcome of the game. I didn't get the impression, given how you berated the officials.

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#10 Antony Ta
November 08 2008, 03:28AM
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Sit Gagner - play Stortini

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#11 R-DAWG
November 08 2008, 06:08AM
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I think the time has come to start looking at the real problem!! The oiler players need to step up. To make anywhere from 1 million to 5 or 6 million dollars a year is all the incentive a player should need to play with passion and heart...but all it does is breed complacency. I'm not going to lie and say I would work my butt off if I made 1-6 million dollars a year so you can see how it can affect a young mans brain. Once that multi-year contract is signed and buddy has the money in the bank WHO CARES right. Player salaries should be based on production. I realize this is a pipe dream but can you amagine the type of hockey we'd see if a guy like Ales Hemsky needed 30 goals to make an extra 3 million this season. As for the coaching...I am a big Mac-t supporter for his role in getting us to Game 7 a few YEARS ago. His time has unfortunatly come to an end with his inability to get this team where it needs to be. I don't think he has the talent to coach high skill players such as Hemsky an it is hurting the team. The only problem is who do we get??? John Torterella...I don't think so!!

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#12 Joey Moss
November 08 2008, 06:25AM
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katz will want a cup to add to his list of accomplishments and will likely hire and fire whoever it takes to get there. if macT and the current management team aren't getting him the cup or at least a sniff expect changes...

i have heard from a source *sounds like a construction company* that katz looms large - regardless of what media or the team tells you.

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#13 RobinB
November 08 2008, 08:32AM
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Moss: If you've got some specific information, let's hear it. Saying Katz "looms large" is pretty vague. Not much of a source.

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#14 Clarkenstein
November 08 2008, 08:36AM
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MacT ALWAYS throws somebody under the bus!!! Refereeing, goaltending, young players... but... how many times have you heard him say "The coaching staff... myself included.... did a shitty job of getting these guys ready to play tonight"!! Not many times according to my memory!! This staff, starting with the head coach, has never and will never have the ability to do that!! Tencer, all you do is kiss MacT's ass!! Your constant referral to the "Cup run", too many injuries, too many road games is old and stale!!! You are part of the media that is satisfied with mediocre (at best) coaching. Let your listeners vent a bit... I want to hear their opinion on a phone in show not yours. Go thru more callers and keep your comments to a minimum please!!

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#15 OilerInPurgatory
November 08 2008, 10:11AM
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As an Oiler fan in the Centre of the Hockey Universe (TM), aka Toronto, Ive been subjected to a whole lotta Leaf coverage over the past few years...

Some of the Oiler play and assessment is strikingly similar to that of the Leafs during the Maurice years. Not always showing up, alternately good and bad games, alternately good and bad special teams.

The interesting thing about Ron Wilson coming in was his comment not only that Fletch purged the dressing room of the players that felt a sense of entitlement (presumably Tucker & McCabe), but that Wilson upped his practices to full-speed. Now, I have no idea at what pace MacT, Huddy etal conduct practice. But Wilson specifically said a couple weeks ago that its ridiculous to have the team practice at 75% and then expect them to be able to cope with teams like Montreal, Pittsburgh, etc. that play a fast puck-possession game and move so quickly. So it often took the Leafs time to get to full game speed, which often translated to a playing from behind -- if not on the scoreboard (due to goaltending), then at least in the pace of the game.

If MacT is to stay at the helm for the rest of the season, maybe he can examine not just the frequenly mentioned motivational aspect of the coaching role, but the preparation of the team in practice for systems and SPEED of the opposition. Dont run the team ragged in practice at slow speed. Make them go full-out (with and without pucks).

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#16 hunter1909
November 08 2008, 10:24AM
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The cup run LMAOOOO

Besides, it was mainly down to Peca and Chris Pronger who led the Oilers to that ultimate failure to win the cup.

How many of the 2006 game 7 players are still with the team?

This team really has become like the Leafs. Decent but ultimately limited role players like Pisani and Moreau and yeah, Horcoff - idolised far beyond their capabilities. Handed fat contracts, that make the Oilers a laughing stock throughout the Wings type fans throughout the league.

No accountability from the head office. After all, they're holding us to ransom, that unless we allow them to keep sending out a lousy team they might up and leave us.

Seeing the Penguins roll out Malkin and Crosby sadly reminded me of what the Oilers had players like that. Of course I was a little kid back then.

My fave comment during the game re Mactavish? Some one on a message board remarking that MacT looked like his mushrooms were kicking in.

You have to wonder what Katz is thinking, as his new shiny toy turns out to be a broken one, held together with gaffer tape.

Oh yeah, we're all supposed to wait for another "2-3 years".

The trouble with waiting for tomorrow is...tomorrow never comes.

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#17 Braden
November 08 2008, 11:01AM
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Dan: Tell me about the cup run. Nobody tells it as good as you.

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#18 milli
November 08 2008, 11:42AM
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anyone heard of Mike singeltary??? I'm betting big bucks on the 49ers tomorrow. When a coach has the balls to call out one of his players like that, the team knows the rules just changed. I don't want to wait til next year, I want the rules to change and this team to be ready to play 60 minutes. Eathan, pisani and Souray, in my mind have been the best players on the team this year. That's great, cuz they are the leaders, but if we want to have sucsess, the others need to follow. Quit floating like it's beer league and play the fucking game. Quit blaming the goalie when the team plays like shit.

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#19 Jonathan Willis
November 08 2008, 11:58AM
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Yes, because that's the real appeal ofradio call-in shows: having random fans vent withou any moderation.

Here's the thing: in any random sampling, you'll get a few really right guys, some OK guys, and a bunch who have no idea what they're talking about.

I occasionally get the Team 1040 on my AM dial, and a good portion (the majority, even) really have their heads lodged where the sun doesn't shine. "I'd trade the Sedins straight across for Peter Forsberg" and "I've got a dressing room source that guarantees Luongo won't start next season with Vancouver" were common Vancouver comments two years ago, and there's similar stuff going on today.

As for not having players like Pittsburgh has - Edmonton's only top-ten pick of the Lowe regime has turned out pretty good. And idiot can draft stars at the #5, #1, #2, #1, and #2 positions, using his copy of The Hockey News. The reason the Oilers don't is because the coach/GM didn't submarine their club.

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#20 Dan Tencer
November 08 2008, 02:20PM
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Robin: It wasn't necessary for you to infer anything from on my comments towards the officiating because I followed them up with the direct statement that the game was lost in the first 40 minutes. As far as the time I spent on the officials...it probably added up to 7 or 8 minutes of a 3 hour show. Regardless, I appreciate the tuneage.

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#21 Dan Tencer
November 08 2008, 02:21PM
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By the way...why can't we edit comments here? Somebody could end up looking like an idiot by using the phrase "anything from on" in the first sentence of his post.

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#22 RobinB
November 08 2008, 02:24PM
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Dan: Because our web guys are clueless and besides, we don't want to allow any possibility of sober second thought.

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#23 hunter1909
November 08 2008, 02:33PM
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It's one thing to draft high like the Penguins did, another thing not to screw up the players development. Columbus, Atlanta, and Florida are perennially picking at the top of the draft and they still blow.

As for Edmonton's top ten pick out of the Lowe era, the way he's been playing so far this season makes me wonder if he's going to regress as a player. After all, the coach goes on record as not giving a rats ass about motivating anyone.

And with ridiculous amounts of money tied up in role players, just how does the team expect to be able to pay for the young talent in a couple of years?

Now I know why I tend to not bother even trying to sound sane anymore when discussing the Oilers. The team has been run more like a lunatic asylum than any semblance of a winning organisation ever since the Messier-for-magic-beans trade.

Trying to talk sane just doesn't make sense.

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#24 Jonathan Willis
November 08 2008, 05:39PM
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As for Edmonton’s top ten pick out of the Lowe era, the way he’s been playing so far this season makes me wonder if he’s going to regress as a player. After all, the coach goes on record as not giving a rats ass about motivating anyone.

It's 12 games in and Gagner turned 19 three months ago. He'll be just fine.

As for not motivating anyone, personally, I think the fact is that adults really shouldn't need to be "motivated" at work. That said, the Oilers brought in the only man to walk both the North and South Poles as a motivational speaker, so maybe they have that covered ;)

And with ridiculous amounts of money tied up in role players, just how does the team expect to be able to pay for the young talent in a couple of years?

Staios: 3 years left at 2.7/yr. Pisani: 2 years left at 2.5M/yr. Moreau: 3 years left at 2M/yr.

That's 7.2 million per season on role players - it's not a problem. The cap problem stems from the top-six forwards and top-four D (Horcoff, Penner, Hemsky, Visnovsky, Souray and Gilbert). Outside of the fact that there's one too many defensemen lokced up at a top rate, it isn't bad at all.

Where's the issue?

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#25 Clarkenstein
November 08 2008, 06:52PM
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Tencer... you mean "edit" as in censorship?? It's a blog for crissakes!! People get to express their feelings without some punk that doesn't shave yet countering every negative (in your opinion) comment!!

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#26 hunter1909
November 08 2008, 07:39PM
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Horcoff and Penner aren't what a championship team wants to use in their top 6.

They're outstanding 3rd liners, that's all.

Gilbert is in his 2nd season, and gets 4 million a year...just in case he turns out to be worth it in future. This, along with Penner's contract, is not only silly but downright dangerous to the team.

Hemsky is worth his money. Souray would be if he stays healthy(yet another questionable move, given his injury history), while Visnovsky hopefully won't turn out to be on the downside of his career.

So actually it's a huge problem.

Hockey players aren't really adults. They're men, playing a boys game. Treating athletes like they're totally responsible is also crazy. I can see Scotty Bowman going through garbage cans to find out where his "adult" players were, since none of them was about to tell him either.

Since MacTavish obviously cannot be bothered to motivate anyone, what exactly does he do? All I see is a stiff with his arms folded behind the bench, offering nothing to the players. And since they usually start many of their games unable to play whatever game MacTavish has concocted for them, I suppose these modern era(bitch slapped) fans just assume there is something wrong with the players.

Astonishing. I remember the old adage "you can't fire the team". Well, the Oilers usually run enough players out of town at the end of each season. But the coach remains.

Simply astonishing.

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#27 Bruce
November 08 2008, 09:41PM
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At least this year, we don’t have to watch as the players get concussed on an ongoing basis, while management scoffs at the idea that the team should need an enforcer.

Hunter: Say what? We got two guys on the shelf with concussion right now, and MacIntyre's heavy breathing from the bench didn't help them one bit. Come to think of it, our enforcer might have a concussion himself after the SMac-down he took from Godard last game. While he was in the room getting stitched up, Cooke was running around delivering more head shots to vulnerable Oilers.

I know what the theory is, but the results so far say it isn't working.

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#28 Jonathan Willis
November 08 2008, 09:55PM
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Horcoff and Penner aren’t what a championship team wants to use in their top 6. They’re outstanding 3rd liners, that’s all.

You can argue that they're top-tier second-line forwards, but calling Horcoff/Penner "third-liners" is a little ridiculous. Penner's a genuine PP performer, and I'm not going to bother defending Horcoff because I've done it lots and he get's crapped on all the time. Here it is in detail.

Since MacTavish obviously cannot be bothered to motivate anyone, what exactly does he do? All I see is a stiff with his arms folded behind the bench, offering nothing to the players. And since they usually start many of their games unable to play whatever game MacTavish has concocted for them, I suppose these modern era(bitch slapped) fans just assume there is something wrong with the players.

Fans are more informed now than they have been at any point in the history of hockey. The resources now available are far beyond what they've ever been.

As for what MacTavish has been doing, look at the line matchups (which I've been putting up for every game). If Horcoff's really a third-liner, MacT should get credit for coaxing two point-per-game seasons out of him in the last three years. Maybe the coaching staff should be credited with turning Hemsky into a complete player. For giving Fernando Pisani, a veteran minor-leaguer, a chance in the big league and getting rewarded by his play. For taking a journeyman RW/D (Staios) and turning him into a tough-minutes player.

MacTavish and is staff have developed a group of low draft picks and castoffs into legitimate NHL'ers. They've coaxed decent performances out of incredibly one-dimensional players (Bergeron comes to mind) and kept an ugly penalty/suspension prone superstar (the Apostate) focused and out of the box.

If people want to argue that MacTavish can't win, that's fine, even if I disagree with it. Arguing that he can't develop (motivate) players is rich.

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#29 David S
November 08 2008, 10:53PM
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What's more rich is the crap that's being flung around here after a lousy 12 games in the midst of what must be the most hellish early season schedule I've ever seen. I mean, c'mon. We put 4 up against the Stanley cup finalist and the same the previous night against a team that just kicked Calgary's ass. And both games were winnable.

I'm seeing lots of progress along with sparks of brilliance and this team is solid when it plays 60 minutes of hockey. As much as MacT rails, I'm sure that deep inside he'll take a .500 first twenty games as a victory.

Horcoff is coming off surgery and will get back on board, probably around Christmas. Gagner will work through his funk and Hemsky is clearly coming on too. K-Lowe and Katz are doing their part like bringing in world-class motivational speakers and I'm quite sure MacT didn't suddenly become a retard in the span of 2 years. No doubt we'll see this ridiculous three goalie situation resolved pretty soon too.

If we're still sucking in February, then you might have a case. But until then, maybe we should lighten up a bit huh?

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#30 Clarkenstein
November 08 2008, 11:37PM
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David your point would normally be well taken, however, we've all seen this movie before... we know how it ends!! I'm tired of "Groundhog Day" for the umpteenth season!!! This is your typical definition of sanity: Do the same things you've always done and expect a different result!!

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#31 Clarkenstein
November 08 2008, 11:38PM
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Should be "insanity" of course...

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#32 hunter1909
November 09 2008, 06:51AM
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Yeah Davis S you're right.

12 games into the season, lol.

The team isn't terrible, and when you go back to a few seasons ago when they had a virtual AHL defence - wtf?

If anything it's fun to watch this team, for all it's faults. Too bad we never seem to get a team that can afford to lose though.

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