February 28 2014 12:07AM
As much of a dumpster fire as this season has been for the Edmonton Oilers, there was at least a hint of anticipation as fans dutifully filed into Rexall Place to begin the stretch drive against the Minnesota Wild after three weeks off for the Olympic break. Should have known better.
Rather than come back with some gusto and jump in a stretch that will see the Oilers play 15 of their final 22 games at home, they served up another feeble and indifferent display for the hometown faithful, collectively shrugging their shoulders in a half-hearted, half-assed 3-0 loss to the Wild.
Fans who arrived with at least a hint of hope the Oilers might finish off this mess of 2013-14 with enthusiasm and maybe a win here or there after a tidy roll before the break, were booing by the final buzzer at the Oilers were shut out for the fifth time at home this season, dropping to 10-15-2 at the Rex.
The power play has fallen and it can't get up. There was next-to-no flow on the attack. Ben Scrivens didn’t look particularly sharp. Worst of all, the give-a-damn meter appeared to be as low as it's been all season, save for some nastiness from Matt Hendricks and Luke Gazdic.
Played like their heads and hearts were still on the beach somewhere warm, did the Oilers. The only grit was the sand in their shorts.
NOT CLOSE TO GOOD ENOUGH
When a team has been as bad as long as the Oilers have, virtually every angle involving personnel, team chemistry, coaching and the X's and O's has been exhausted. The power play, at least this 1-3-1 version of it, is brutal. There are holes throughout the lineup front and back. The defense isn’t good enough. All this we know. More fodder for these last days before the trade deadline.
One ongoing glaring deficiency – far from the only one -- that stood out for me in this game was the lack of push-back from the Oilers, the unwillingness to back each other up. The all-for-one, one-for-all mentality most successful teams show consistently. Big problem.
That was illustrated best as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall were getting knocked around near the Minnesota goal by Keith Ballard and Matt Cooke. Out near the blue line stood Jeff Petry and Anton Belov, two of the biggest players on the ice. And that's where they stayed as Ballard cuffed RNH and Hall had a brief altercation with Cooke. They watched.
I'm not foolish enough to think having Petry and Belov wade in and kick some backside, or at least show up, in that circumstance comes anywhere near close to addressing the many needs of this team, but showing opponents they don’t get a free pass in that situation would solve one of them – the lack of will to play and stand up for each other.
I'm not suggesting GM Craig MacTavish go on a thug hunt at the deadline or over the summer, but while he's looking for another defenseman or two and some size that can play in the top-six up front, find a player or two who isn’t so ready to turn the other cheek -- as too many players on this roster now are.
Culture change? Let's start with MacTavish getting some players who are as sick of losing as the fans who filed in to watch yet another no-show by a team that keeps talking the talk but refuses to walk the walk.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.