November 17 2009 03:18PM
With the Edmonton Oilers back home for five straight games at Rexall Place and slowly returning to health, an optimist might suggest there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately for Pat Quinn's outfit, it's probably a train.
Back from Columbus after dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the Blue Jackets Monday, the Oilers could use some home cooking as they try to put the brakes on a four-game losing streak after getting four of a possible 10 points from a five-game road swing.
The problem for the Oil, now sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference at 8-10-3, is that this homestand, and three road games that come after it, will be against teams higher than them in the standings.
The Oilers open the stand Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche, who have to be sour about getting clipped by Edmonton 5-3 Oct. 8 in Denver to open the last swing. Then, it's Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose.
After that, it's six straight on the road, with the first three in Vancouver, Detroit and Dallas before stops in Florida, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
Anybody see the Oilers getting more than, what, eight points from those next eight games?
Do it now
I'm baffled why GM Steve Tambellini has yet to make a personnel move to address two glaring and connected needs that date back to last season -- a defensive centre who can win face-offs and kill penalties.
While I get it that Tambellini hasn't had a full roster to assess because of injuries and illness, the players he's been without to this point aren't going to address the issues even when they return, so I don't understand what he's waiting for. More time to assess, perhaps.
Unless I'm mistaken, and I'm not, the Oilers weren't good enough on the dot last season, when they finished ranked 25th at 47.9 per cent. Anybody with two eyes and half-a-brain could see it, no?
Chasing me-first guy Dany Heatley this off-season made for great intrigue and inking Mike Comrie in what seemed an unlikely return made for a good kiss-and-make-up story, but neither pursuit addressed the need.
Same old same old
Twenty-one games into this season, the Oilers are ranked 29th in the NHL in face-offs at 46.1 per cent. Apparently, Tambellini thinks he's good enough down the middle with Shawn Horcoff (50.0 per cent), Sam Gagner (46.4), Andrew Cogliano (40.3) and Gilbert Brule (52.0).
Or maybe Dustin Penner (42.6), who has been taking a lot of draws to minimize wear and tear on Horcoff's shoulder, is the answer. I think not.
If Manny Malhotra or Blair Betts weren't perceived as the answer over the summer -- Malhotra was asking for way too much money and the Oilers were only lukewarm on Betts -- fine. But what about now?
Finding another centre more proficient at winning face-offs isn't going to solve all that ails the Oilers, the penalty killing being high on that list, but failure to address the need is going to be a costly blind spot for Tambellini.
By the numbers
With special teams, the good news is the power play has looked better despite playing most of the season without Sheldon Souray. The bad news, as I mentioned earlier, is that the penalty killing again stinks worse than a minivan full of carnival workers in mid-July.
-- With two goals on the power play in Columbus, the Oilers are 19-for-86 for 22.1 per cent, leaving them 11th going into play Tuesday. In 2008-09, the Oilers finished 22nd on the power play at 17 per cent.
-- The penalty killing, which most thought would be considerably better this season, is operating at almost the same dismal clip as it did a year ago, when a 77.5 per cent success rate left the Oilers ranked 27th. They're at 77.6 per cent right now, leaving them 24th.
-- Even with four straight losses, the Oilers aren't far off last season's pace after 21 games. In 2008-09 they were 9-10-2 for 20 points. They're sitting at 19 points as the Avalanche come calling.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.