December 20 2009 10:41AM
Well, the Edmonton Oilers have certainly done their level best to boost the Christmas spirit of the faithful at Rexall Place over the past three games, now haven't they?
Ho-ho-ho. The Oilers return home after winning five straight games on the road, putting a big dent in the Dive For Five bandwagon, and lose 3-2 to the Los Angeles Kings Dec. 15.
Ho-ho-ho. The Oilers jump out to a 2-0 lead against the Nashville Predators in front of another packed house before folding in a 6-3 loss, leaving fans face down in a big puddle of rum-laced egg nog Dec. 17.
Ho-ho-ho. Saturday night, the Oilers parlay a lucky bounce to a 2-0 lead over Washington. That goes sideways after Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau spends the second intermission questioning how a wealthy player like Alex Ovechkin could have hobo hair and such bad teeth. Ovechkin sparks a four-goal outburst and is last seen being patted on the backside by Boudreau as Oiler fans stumble to the parking lot after a 4-2 loss.
All that remains for fans before the NHL's official Christmas break is for Santa to sh*t in their stockings with an overtime loss to the feeble St. Louis Blues Monday and a fifth straight defeat in Minnesota Wednesday.
It could be ugly, indeed, long before the credit card bills roll in and that puke-inducing concoction otherwise known as grandma's Christmas cake hits the trash.
Bing and the losers
With Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas in the background and my son Sam bounding about the house fuelled by another load of holiday-issue sweets, it was disconcerting seeing the Oilers so thoroughly outclassed by Ovechkin and the Capitals in the third period last night.
When a good team, let alone a great team like the Caps, plays anywhere near as well as it can, the team Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini have assembled for coach Pat Quinn doesn't have the dimension, drive, talent or gamesmanship to do anything but hang on and hope.
Jonathan Willis nailed it with his assessment in his post-game wrap-up, That's Not A Choice, It's A Lack Of Options:
"I just don't know that I can scrape for positives when Washington sends out Ovechkin and Co. and the best Edmonton can manage in response is (one-armed) Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O'Sullivan (in a slump to end all slumps) and (NHL rookie) Ryan Stone. Looking for a bona fide checking line, that's the best Quinn can do, and I can't even call him on it because there aren't any other options.
"Seriously — look down the roster. There's nobody. Hemsky would help a fair bit, but despite the sheer volume of forwards on the team there isn't anybody proven who can handle a checking role. It's Horcoff, O'Sullivan, rookies, the Ghost of thecaptainethanmoreau, and the faint hope of a healthy Fernando Pisani."
Like watching Uncle Arthur crack open his belt after too much turkey and stuffing and then pass wind while mom divvies up the pumpkin pie, the Oilers shortcomings have become tradition — at the very least for the past four years running. This isn't a one-off.
What to do?
- Where is the shutdown line the Oilers need when it's 2-0 and the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin rev it up? Can you name three forwards on the roster Quinn could put together who could lock it down?
- Where is the centre who can kill penalties and win face-offs? He was at Rexall Place last night, but David Steckel, who went 13-9 on the dot, wears No. 39 for the Caps. He doesn't count. There is no reasonable facsimile here.
- Where is the defenceman who can settle things down in the defensive end? Who, aside from Sheldon Souray, has shown any ability whatsoever to clear the front of the net without getting out-muscled or out-smarted? Laddy Smid doesn't count, yet, because face-washing after the whistle doesn't qualify.
- How many hacks at the puck would Ovechkin have had at the 4-1 goal last night if he didn't bang it past Jeff Deslauriers on the third try?
- Speaking of Deslauriers, he's gone from sitting for months between starts last season to making 111 straight appearances with Nikolai Khabibulin waiting for Santa to deliver a new spine. Anybody have a plan?
The sad reality is there won't be anything under the Oilers tree on Christmas morning to bolster the ridiculously flawed line-up Quinn has to work with, the team loyal fans keep paying good money to see.
And there's not even a gift receipt to ease the pain.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.