February 01 2009 08:45PM
There's no excuse for the half-hearted effort the Edmonton Oilers trotted out for a capacity crowd at Rexall Place in a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, but if you're surprised, you're gullible.
Led by Dustin Penner, my choice as poster boy for a team that plays with the commitment it takes to be a legitimate contender only when it damn well feels like it, the Oilers delivered yet another pulse-less performance. Just when Joe Fan had reason to believe the Oilers might be building a head of steam after watching their team bounce back from a 10-2 sheet-soiler against Buffalo Tuesday with a workmanlike 3-1 decision over the Minnesota Wild Friday, their team phoned it in against the Predators, a team that rolled into town with a 9-15-2 road record.
No intensity. No drive. No commitment to detail. No sense of seizing the moment and heading for their Super Bowl party with a 7-2 roll in their last nine games on the go. Hell, 6-3 is good enough, isn't it? I mean, the Oilers, as of today, are in the playoffs. What could go possibly go wrong?
Have some chips. Beverage? Relax.
Haven't we seen this movie before?
Let coach Craig MacTavish tell it. "We didn't have enough jam from our role players," he began. "To be an NHL player, you've got to provide some consistency. "When you don't have stats to back up a stall in that dressing room, you better provide some jam. We didn't get enough of it early and it was our undoing." With Western Conference standings as tight as they are and just one game removed from the humiliation against the Sabres, how the could the Oilers possibly be as indifferent as they appeared against the Predators?
"We have to take the responsibility to take care of our own business," said MacTavish. "We haven't done that for a few years here. "When you get a game like that where you can drive a nail in, you get the game. You can always exhibit the urgency and the intensity. The one thing you want to show in a game like that, as we saw in the Minnesota game, is the intensity from everybody. "That's why guys fail to establish themselves as NHL players. They can't be counted on. They can't bring the consistency. It's a tease. It's every four or five games for a few guys. We need more consistent jam."
Let's let captain Ethan Moreau, who played his backside off and finished the game with nine shots, but got no sniff, take a whirl at explaining it. "We didn't have the urgency to score goals we needed and it was obvious," said Moreau. "It's really frustrating. I thought we'd respond better, but we didn't. It's not everybody. There were guys who worked really hard, but we didn't have enough. It wasn't enough. I'm not going to make excuses. That wasn't good enough. We need more through our line-up."
Lack of jam. Not enough intensity. An absence of commitment. Hmm, does that sound like a problem to you?
Leading the lethargy for the umpteenth time this season was Penner, who is playing himself back into the doghouse. With just two goals in his last 19 games, Penner pumped the pooch for a couple of periods before taking a ride on the pine for the second straight game. "From my perspective, it's a case of he's lost his game," said MacTavish, resisting the urge to carve Penner another orifice from which to poop as he did a couple months ago.
"It's more his play with the puck. When you have a guy like (Ales) Hemsky playing at the level he's at now, all you've got to do is get the puck to him somewhere between the hash marks in your own end and the red line and you’re going to get a chance. "Every time he touches the puck, he's creating a chance. He (Hemsky) is an elite player at the top of his game now and we've got to find somebody . . . We need somebody who can go in there and make some plays. I can't give him the ice time when we need performance so badly."
I can't imagine why GM Steve Tambellini wouldn't try to dump Penner before the trade deadline, but I can't think of any team foolish enough to take on his contract. One way or another, Tambellini has to find a way to get more production from his left side.
Penner's funk is far from Tambellini's only problem, even if it might be the most pressing.
But, hey, relax. Have some chips. Beverage?
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.