Are they nuts?

As Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish likes to say, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Fans can only assume, then, MacTavish and bosses Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini have seen enough in the wake of a 6-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on the final day of 2008 to understand they need to make a deal or maybe two before we get very deep into 2009. That, or check into a rubber room.

MacTavish’s 29th-ranked killing units were abysmal yet again in Cowtown as the Flames powerplay lit them up for three goals in five attempts. No matter who MacTavish throws over the boards, it’s like sending somebody to fight a fire armed with a can of gasoline.

Hand in hand with that miserable performance, MacTavish’s centres got schooled in the face-off circles again. The All-Thumbs Unit of Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Kyle Brodziak went 25-40 on the dot for 38 per cent (including 7-23 in the defensive zone).

Neither of these issues is stop the presses stuff.

Enough is enough

“We’ve got to find a way, or find some new guys that can kill penalties,” an exasperated MacTavish said after his men in the middle and the PK soiled their straight-jackets again.

“It’s been an aspect in our game from the start of the year and it’s gone poorly from the start. We can’t clear the puck when we need to. Somebody’s got to step up and try to kill penalties or we’re going to have to try and find somebody that can.”

To be fair to the ATU, the Oilers feeble penalty-killing record doesn’t rest solely with the pivots. That said, lost face-offs and lack of puck possession play a big part in it.

The biggest difference between this season and 2007-08, when the team was ranked fifth on the PK, is the Oilers have lost two key face-off men and penalty killers in Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner.

Stoll, shipped to Los Angeles with Matt Greene for Lubomir Visnovsky, is ticking right along with the Kings. He’s ranked seventh in face-off percentage at 57.6. Reasoner, with Atlanta, is ranked 49th at 50.3.

By the numbers

Horcoff, ranked 36th, remains the Oilers best face-off man at 51.8 overall despite a hideous mark of 8-16 on a night he’d rather forget Wednesday. After Horcoff, it gets thin.

Brodziak, the only pivot to break even in Cowtown at 9-9, is rated 55th at 49.9. Gagner is 118-148 for 44.4 per cent. Cogliano is 107-179 for 37.4 per cent. Say no more.

So here we are. The aforementioned centres continue to work with assistant coach Bill Moores on face-offs after practice. They go through buckets and buckets of pucks on a daily basis. They’re trying to get the hang of it, but the results speak for themselves.

At some point, as MacTavish said Wednesday, personnel trumps practice and the faces have to change.

Good and cheap

If I was Lowe, I’d be picking up the phone and putting the arm on old friend and confident Scott Howson in Columbus and inquiring about what it might take to get Manny Malhotra.

I can’t think of too many reasons why I’d want a former first-round flop like Malhotra (seventh overall in 1998) on my roster, but there’s no question the 28-year-old journeyman has an element the Oilers need.

When it comes to face-offs, Malhotra isn’t only good — he sits fifth in the NHL with a face-off percentage of 58.6 — he’s earning a relatively modest $1.5 million this season as he heads into unrestricted free agency.

Malhotra is 286-202 in face-offs overall, and he’s a demon on the dot when the Blue Jackets are shorthanded. On shorthanded face-offs, Malhotra is 54-36. The other thing worth noting is he’s better on the road at 59.5 per cent than he is at home, 57.6 per cent.

Pull the trigger

You’d think an efficient, inexpensive player like Malhotra and a chance to address face-offs and penalty killing might be worth a call from Lowe or Tambellini. Maybe — again, I’m assuming evidence of this fatal flaw down the middle is sufficiently obvious — the call has already been made. I’ll try to find out in coming days.

In any case, even if it’s a long shot, it’s a far more attractive and likely proposition than trying to lure Stoll back from the sunny sands of Newport Beach or watching the ATU get schooled.

The way I see it, Moores can dump rubber on the dot until his right arm falls off and MacTavish can diagram the penalty kill until the cows come home, but it won’t make a difference.

A trade will. Or, at least, might.

  • @ Chris:
    Agreed on the no cup thing. The club has no talent outside of Hemsky that would be truly coveted by other clubs. If the Oil make the playoffs, they will get their collective asses handed to them by whoever they play in the first round. Management will then draft a smallish forward in the mid-teens. I will then drink myself into a 2-day coma, while shaking my head in disbelief. MacT will recieve a contract extension, and K-Lowe (sorry, Steve-T) will sacrifice 3 picks to sign a flash-in-the-pan RFA. Pisani will then recieve a 3 year, $10 million dollar contract after scoring 4 goals in 4 playoff games. Good times.

  • Chris

    @ rindog:
    Chris wrote:

    The Oilers are Okay. We can probably still make the playoffs if minor changes are made

    I stand corrected.

    We are not okay. When they lose a game like the one to Ottawa the Oilers make things incredibly difficult for themselves… Then they play well and lose in Calgary… now you have a MUST Win against Dallas. Lose and you are back at .500, on a three game skid, Coach on the hotseat, etc, etc. Same old story.

  • Deep Oil

    @ Chris: I would personally love to have Avery and Tootoo on the Oil – but who on the team would stand up and show Avery the Oil way – Mess is retired and it seems that the Oil are soft and Moreau is a leader but more of a Jason Smith type leader – guy gets respects but no fear…..

  • Deep Oil

    @ Chris: Trading a player at trade deadline results very often in bargain basement orphans – the problem here as stated in the past is that KLOWE needs to make himself feel important on that trade and signs BOBBIE for 5.5 million while MACT berates his work effort on NYI – sounds like KLOWE is creating long term problems with coach killer work ethic – the list of average players on this team earning double what they should make in the relative nhl salary scheme is a joke – but when you are sold out and the only game in town – the management can do no wrong and anyone that would throw stones at KLOWE will be banished or blackballed in terms of info, scoop, or access – and in the end you get 630 ched with memos not to badmouth the oil blah blah blah – corporate bullsh*t – thankfully i choose to listen to gregor (truth) instead of an apology after the game… when was the last time you heard from LOWE or puppet Tambellini – they are muted.

  • Cam

    @ Deep Oil:

    I think the fact we aren't hearing from Tambo or K-Lo is because they ae working on something and want to talk to everyone AFTER they announce it. I would be surprised if there isn't at least a inor change here in the next two weeks.

  • Deep Oil

    with much respect cam – they can WORK all they want – but they need a dance partner and trades in the nhl are as common as outdoor games – one a year.

  • KayleW

    Has Jordan Staal been extended longterm by the Pens or is there a possibility that they might not fit him in with the cap going down next year? If I recall he's a damn good penalty killer and a decent goal scorer as well. Pittsburgh is short on the back end so maybe we could move a d-man and a couple forwards for a guy like staal. Just a random thor I have had for a cpl days.

  • Chris

    @ Deep Oil:
    Aggree completely. KLowe has so completely screwed this team that it would be difficult for Tambo, Katz, or anyone new to blow things up and rebuild in less than five years. Nobody wants our current assets. NOBODY wants our vetrans contracts. UFA's won't play here. Our farm team sucks. Klowe has never had a five year plan… all his decisions have been poor reactions to even poorer initial decisions. LOWE MUST GOWE!