Deep thoughts III

“A lot of previous years, I’m trying to generate optimism and enthusiasm, but this year I’m probably more interested in quelling it a little bit.”

“I can’t remember a period over the last 15 years where we’ve been so excited . . . this is the best chance we’ve had in a long time to win the division . . . it’s a very achievable goal. Young players have developed. Now we have lots of depth at virtually every position . . . we have a real good chance to do some great things this year.”

So, was that a meteor in the sky Thursday or Craig MacTavish’s lofty pre-season expectations hurtling to the muskeg on fire like a burnt weenie at a barbecue gone wrong after watching his Oilers get outclassed — forget the 4-3 score — by the Detroit Red Wings at Rexall Place? And, who says MacT has lost the dressing room? We’re only 20 games into the season and the players have jumped onside with their coach in putting an end to talk this team has the combination of physical talent AND mental make-up to be a real contender in the Western Conference.

Consider it quelled.

HERE WE ARE

At 9-9-2 through 20 games, the Oilers are right about where I thought they’d be in terms of record and the standings when I looked at them in pre-season. Given their schedule — 14 of 20 games on the road so far — and line-up changes, I didn’t expect anything more at this point, although most fans were more optimistic.

How the Oilers got here, though, is surprising. After a misleading 4-0 start and with parade route planners looking down their noses at doomsayers who didn’t see a Northwest Division title in the cards, the Oilers had a chance to not only survive the schedule-maker’s handiwork, but hit the quarter-pole smelling like roses. But noooooooo.

With five days before they face Los Angeles, the stench wafting through Rexall Place has everybody checking the bottom of their shoes, expecting to have to scrape something off.
With MacTavish sounding more frustrated by the day and having called out individual players — hello, Dustin Penner, Shawn Horcoff and Mathieu Garon — and his team in general for lack of jam and gamesmanship, I’m guessing that aroma is also filling the nostrils of Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini.

Something has to happen before the Kings come calling Wednesday. Doesn’t it?

THE OBVIOUS

– This team, as MacTavish alluded to Thursday night, is way too soft and too easy to play against. Being a nasty bunch of SOBs isn’t a matter of size, it’s a state of mind, so there’s no excuses, even with smaller players in the line-up. The next time Ales Hemsky gets planted into the end boards, a response, like maybe a punch in the mouth, might be an idea. Stink-eyes and name-calling doesn’t get it done.

Then, there’s the concept of actually initiating that kind of stuff instead of just reacting. No? More guys need to show some brass, and they need to do so before Steve MacIntyre’s broken face heals.

– Please, pick two goaltenders and stick with them. Decide which one is your starter and which is your back-up. Garon and Dwayne Roloson. Jeff Deslauriers and Garon. Roloson and Deslauriers. Flip a coin. Pick a pair. Three’s a crowd. It’s not stop-the-presses stuff.

– There’s no excuse, none, for the way the Oilers have started too many games and Thursday’s loss was a prime example. Spot the Cup champs a 3-0 lead? What could go wrong? The Oilers have been outscored 18-10 in first periods. Brutal. Wake up.

– Outside of Hemsky, there isn’t a top-six forward playing well enough to merit top-six minutes. That’s five guys, with Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Penner being the most obvious, getting sugar time without earning it most nights. Either the situation changes or the personnel does.

JUST ASKING

– Given pre-season expectations and that Daryl Katz is now endorsing the cheques, what’s the over/under on MacTavish’s tenure if the Oilers don’t start to climb above the .500 mark and stay there? And, no, 2007 doesn’t count as a prediction.

– Bizarre as it sounds, is it too much to ask that defencemen, well, play defence? That right wingers play right wing instead of left wing or center? I know Laddy Smid longs for the Art Ross Trophy, but, like my mom used to say, “There’s a place for everything and everything in its place.”

– Not that it had any impact whatsoever, but whose idea was it to claim Jesse Boulerice off waivers in the first place? No, really. Was this a collaborative brain cramp or somebody’s singular epiphany? Who?

– Just a thought, but with all the concern about a tough schedule to start the season, is anybody else concerned the Oilers have blown off too many of the few games they’ve had at home? Fellas, 2-2-2?

– Penalty killing. When does that start?

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260

  • shakey

    Mac T gets the blame for a lot of the Oilers issues, horrible starts and bad penalty killing to name a couple. But when the game is on and someone drills our version of a superstar, Mac T can't drill that guy back or drop the gloves with him, that's for guys on the ice to do. You see a teammate get drilled and if it merits instant retribution, the players need to step up. I fear that the team isn't playing for Mac T anymore and I really fear it's going to go on for a while before something is done about it. I hope this 6 day break isn't wasted with them doing more shot blocking drills.

  • Oilerdago

    What are we learning? The sooner a trade the better because the forward lines are a mess because of the 3 goalies. No leverage to bench anyone when 46 is the alternative. Time to farm him out and bring up Brule.

    FYI – Boulerice was picked back up by COL.

  • It's discusting that Hemsky get hammered into the boards at the end of the first period by Franzen. Nobody did anything about it after it happened either.

    Nobody steps up to take on a guy who has 2 fights & 134 PIM in 234 hockey games…now I understand what MAcT is so pissed off about the intestinal fortitude of his team.

  • David S

    From MacT's post-game comments, I got the impression he was alluding to a player shakeup, possibly a trade in the works in the very near future.

    Saw Smid playing forward last night and I have to tell you, he handled himself pretty well for his first crack at it. I like the idea that MacT is trying new things. I must admit that there's probably way more development going on here than we might believe.

    BTW – Boulerice is back on waivers. Seriously, what was the point of this exercise?