March 30 2009 12:16AM
The official sign golf season was underway used to be the opening of Golden West Golf Course, but with the modest old track now closed, the Edmonton Oilers have taken over as the official beacon that's it's time for fans to move along and tee it up.
If taking 40 minutes in the 76th game of the season to play with some passion and purpose in a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild isn't a sure sign it's time to dust off the sticks and think temporary greens instead of hockey in April for a third straight season, nothing is.
Playoff teams, which is what the Oilers were supposed to be when coach Craig MacTavish deemed them contenders for a Northwest Division title in pre-season, don't lose to a team playing it's 14th road game in a 17-game stretch like Minnesota was.
When a team like the Wild straggles into town for the second of back-to-back games at the end of a hellacious stretch, you jump on them early and knock the try out of them. You go for the throat. Not yours, theirs.
Playoff teams don't drag their asses and shrug their shoulders for the better part of two periods like the Oilers did before trotting out their tiresome here-come-the-heroes act late to make it interesting. Playoff teams, at least ones with any chance of contending, don't have as many passengers as the Oilers did against the Wild. They don't sit back and say, "Let Dwayne Roloson do it" on the way to their fourth loss in the last five games.
On a night when the Oilers lost ground to Nashville and saw St. Louis and Anaheim vault over them in Western Conference standings, the Oilers didn't show the will, the smarts or the gamesmanship to seize the moment and put the weary Wild away for keeps. It was close to a total team effort in terms of a no-show for two periods.
"Too many guys are just too content to be a non-factor rather than be a factor and step up and make a play and be assertive in a game you desperately need," said MacTavish, the sound of defeat and frustration dripping off every word.
"With six games left, we're still looking for a team that will take charge of an opportunity." There were some pretty good examples of some guys who played with the intensity and the passion in the game, but not enough. At no point this year have we exhibited the ability to grab the game within the game. You have to take charge of the game. We just haven't had that ability."
One question: if not now, after 76 games, then when?
THE UGLY TRUTH
While Roloson didn't come up with the best effort of his 32 straight starts against the Wild, let's not forget this team would be in line for a lottery draft pick if it wasn't for him. It's been Roloson's jam and competitiveness that's masked a multitude of flaws in the stretch drive.
-- When you're 16-14-6 at home and you can't mount anything resembling a sustained effort until the third period of a game you have to win, you don't deserve to get into a playoff game unless you buy a ticket.
-- The Oilers power play is 3-for-34 in the last nine home games.
-- The Oilers have been outshot in seven of their last 10 games, including 54-20 by Anaheim, 44-26 by Detroit and 43-31 by Chicago.
-- Shawn Horcoff has two goals in the last 18 games. Andrew Cogliano has one goal in the last 10 games. Patrick O'Sullivan has one goal in 13 games since being acquired from Los Angeles. Dustin Penner has three goals in his last 20 games.
-- Ales Hemsky wants to be the go-to guy? Nice job by Dan Barnes of The Journal getting Hemsky to spill his guts last week, but go-to guys don't vent in the newspapers and score one goal in an 11-game stretch when the team needs them to produce. They shut up and get the job done.
So, do you really think the Oilers have the backbone to climb back into a playoff spot with six games to play? I have my doubts. And, even if they do, does it really make the season a success? Depends on your expectations, I suppose. Would eighth place mean more than two homes dates worth of playoff revenue?
Maybe they can give up 50-plus shots against Anaheim again Tuesday and ride Roloson to another win. Maybe they can show the grit Nashville and St. Louis has and put together a late charge. They'd better, because they'll need four wins in these last six to have any chance. But, well, no.
Be disappointed and angry at yet another mediocre season if you must, especially those, like MacTavish, who honestly believed this edition of the Oilers had a legit chance of taking a run at a division title.
Not me. Playing bad golf beats watching bad hockey any day, and I'm ready to play some. To steal from noted orator Dennis Green, the Edmonton Oilers are who I thought they were.
Not good enough.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.