Thank goodness for back-to-back wins against the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers.
Had it not been for Saturday’s 3-1 win over Carolina and Sunday’s 5-4 victory in Philly, Craig MacTavish might be so stupid by today he’d have trouble tying his shoes or wiping his bum by himself, let alone finding gainful employment after being fired.
And Ales Hemsky? Mercy, had he not scored a pair of highlight reel goals, his first two since last March 16, to help beat The Bullies at the Wachovia Center, he’d be virtually dead weight today. You’d be stiffing somebody big-time if you got even a bucket of pucks or a box of tape for him.
OK, I’m exaggerating — but not by that much, given some of the comments I read leading up to the end of a five-game losing streak.
Here in the bi-polar state that is Oil Country, the line separating elation from despair is thin, indeed. Way too thin. Any winning streak beyond two games is cause for the planning of parade routes and contract extensions all around.
Anything more than a couple of losses sends many fans into frenetic loathing, with armchair GM’s insisting changes MUST be made, and the sooner the better, before we get too far into the season, like 10 games.
It was no different when the Oilers opened the season with four straight wins, even if they pulled fast ones in at least two of them, or when they stumbled down Tobacco Road to the RBC Center with that five-gamer on the go.
A henny penny for your thoughts
I didn’t have to look far to find examples to show just how knotted up some fans were before the team hit double-digits in games played. And before anybody accuses me of cherry-picking, the following comments aren’t the most overblown I found out there — they’re among the more conservative by those of the mind MacTavish deserves a pink slip and Hemsky needs a ticket to anyplace else.
“I think Hemmer has to be taken off the first line with Horcoff. Even last year they were not dominant. Throw Cole up as the number one guy on the right, and drop Hemmer down to the second line. Brodziak, Moreau and Pisani should be our fourth line. Call up a kid, send Stortini packing and shake this team up. Katz won’t put up with this for much longer.” —Fiveandagame on Oilersnation, Oct. 31
“Hemsky is possibly the most over-rated player on this board. All dangle. No finish. Skates well, has some nice moves, no finish and lacks desire. A very good player, but not God-like as many here think. I wouldn’t mind one bit to see him traded while his value is still high. Not one bit.” —Edmund Oiler, on Hockey’s Future, Nov. 1
“It seems obvious to me, MacTavish has lost any influence on the team we had hoped he had. The team doesn’t play for him out of respect and they don’t play for him out of fear. Can we start counting the days till his departure?” —Jerry MacWire, on Oilersnation, Oct. 31
Adams Trophy for MacT?
We’re 11 games into the season and the Oilers are 6-4-1. They weren’t as good as they looked in the standings when they bolted out to a 4–0 start thanks to great goaltending and a red-hot power play.
And they weren’t as bad as they looked when they lost five straight. In fact, by and large, they played more good hockey in those five losses than they did in the four twins.
The difference in Carolina was a lucky goal by Shawn Horcoff, whose shot went off the post before Cam Ward swept it into the net with his pad, and a soft goal by Ethan Moreau, who beat Ward to the short side with a wrist shot from a sharp angle.
Was MacTavish a “better” coach in that game? Was his game-plan and preparation better, or any different at all, than in the previous five games? I don’t think so, but you tell me.
Let’s give Hemmer another chance
And what of Hemsky? He had eight assists in the Oilers’ first ten games going into Philly, but fan frustration with him was evident throughout the Oilogosphere as the losses mounted. Had he really played that poorly?
“It’s nice to score, finally, a couple of goals,” Hemsky said. “It feels great. I felt great the last five games with the puck.
“I was making plays. I knew if I stayed with it, it’ll come, you know? You just have to stick with it. You can’t get mentally down. You’re still telling yourself you can score… you have to keep going, get the confidence high and the goals and points will come.”
Trade a point-a-game player with a $4.1 million cap hit? For whom?
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’ll take the unmitigated passion of Oilers fans over the indifference that’s prevalent in too many NHL cities any day. People here care, and that, within reason—setting things on fire on Whyte Avenue doesn’t qualify—is seldom a bad thing. The alternative is Florida or Anaheim or Tampa Bay.
But here we are 11 games into an 82-game season, and it’s been a roller-coaster ride already—one that is bound to continue when the puck drops in Columbus Wednesday. That’s OK. I get it.
But fire MacT or trade Hemsky? Can we at least put that off until, say, the second week of December?
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.