April 01 2009 11:23AM
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you place the blame.”
- Oscar Wilde
With the Oilers all but eliminated from the playoffs, Craig MacTavish took a chance last night. Down a single goal in a must-win game, he asked for a measurement on Teemu Selanne’s stick, a decision which backfired when it turned out that Selanne’s stick was legal. Ducks players were surprised; Bobby Ryan said that they “got lucky”, while Scott Niedermayer suggested that Selanne had a chance before the game to switch to a legal stick.
It doesn’t much matter now. MacTavish was wrong, and he took the blame for it afterwards – calling the decision a “terrible mistake” and saying that he felt his choice sabotaged what looked like a terrific comeback. That’s as it should be, of course, but that willingness to accept responsibility contrasts in an ugly way with Ethan Moreau’s post game comments.
“A lot of that game we played really well. I thought we were physical, we stood up for one another. There were some good hits, good fights and we went to the net harder in the third period and created some offense. There’s going to be games where we have to get four or five goals to help Roli out, and we haven’t found that offensive output yet.”
He expanded on that with Dan Tencer later in the evening; Tencer mentioned special teams and again Moreau said that they couldn’t score when they needed to.
It’s interesting to me that a guy like Moreau (who plays a major role on the penalty kill, and doesn’t play at all on the powerplay) would point a finger at offensive production on a night where powerplay production matched the penalty kill’s ineptitude. The Oilers went 1-for-4 on both the penalty kill and the powerplay. 25% is a fine rate for man advantage production (it would be second in the league over the course of an entire season) but it’s an awful number for the penalty-kill to be lugging around.
It’s especially ugly when you consider that it was Ethan Moreau who made the decision to creep out to the point and double-team Ryan Getzlaf; a decision that left the man he was covering (Scott Niedermayer) alone in the slot. Niedermayer then scored the first of three Ducks’ powerplay goals on the night. Given that it has been the penalty kill, more than any other single factor that has sunk the Oilers this season (and sunk them again last night) it comes across as self-serving for the team captain (a defensive specialist) to blame the offense on the night of a 5-3 loss.
There’s no doubt that Craig MacTavish bears much of the blame for problems this season. He’s likely to pay for that with his job, and if he holds true to form he’ll publicly claim responsibility for a poor season. Individual players deserve some of the blame, and that includes the captain, even if he is unlikely he is to admit it. Still, none of those targets should hold the final responsibility if (likely when) the Oilers miss the playoffs.
It was Kevin Lowe who decided this summer that the Oilers only needed one veteran centre on the team. It was Kevin Lowe who traded away key members of the penalty-killing unit without bothering to replace them. For that matter, while Craig MacTavish is frequently blamed for years of low achievement, it has been Kevin Lowe who assembled those teams from the G.M.’s office.
Steve Tambellini was brought in this summer after Lowe’s promotion. Whether the blame should fall to him or to Lowe is impossible to say from this vantage point, but between the two of them they decided not to address the penalty-kill all season long. They decided not to bring in another veteran centre; leaving Shawn Horcoff to play far too many minutes and take nearly every critical faceoff. They decided to invest a second-round pick in Ales Kotalik; a powerplay and shootout specialist who has helped the team but who is not only likely to depart this summer, but who never could be the answer to the Oilers’ biggest problems in the first place.
The problems with this team may not stop with the two men making the decisions, but there’s no doubt that they start there.