Funny thing how expectations work. When there are none, you get rolls like the Edmonton Oilers fashioned in their final 20 games last season as they went 14-5-1 and looked like the 1957 Montreal Canadiens doing it.
Crank up the pressure, and you get what we have now — a team that seems tighter than a drum and will lurch into Rexall Place to face the St. Louis Blues Tuesday with just three wins in their last dozen games.
In the Bluenotes, the Oilers will be facing a team that began a charge into playoff contention after most pundits looked at them, turned their thumbs down and said, “No chance.” Kind of like a lot of people did after injuries ravaged last year’s edition of the Oilers. This time around, it’s the Blues, not the Oilers, who’ve got nothing to lose.
“I think it’s more the mentality of the team you’re facing,” said Craig MacTavish, asked about losses to Colorado and Atlanta that have run the Oilers losing streak to three games during what was supposed to be a soft stretch in the schedule.
“Where they’re loose and playing with very little on the line. They take some chances. They get some success because the other teams are tight.”
That, in essence, is why Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano looked like the second coming of the Triple Crown Line last March and April and why the Oilers played like champs without Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Raffi Torres and Ethan Moreau down the stretch. No expectations. No pressure. It’s a different game.
So, really, is it any surprise the Oilers aren’t going anywhere fast with the money on the table now? And, in a season in which MacTavish picked his team to contend for a Northwest Division title?
It shouldn’t be.
It’s not like Ales Kotalik cost the Oilers much on trade deadline day, but in the spirit of “you get what you pay for,” Kotalik hasn’t turned a wheel in five games since coming over from Buffalo.
Kotalik, a big man who plays not only small but soft, has 13 goals this season, but just five at even strength. He’ll line-up on right wing with Gagner and Nilsson against St. Louis.
When I look a Kotalik, I see a big version of German Titov, a pretty good player who did nothing in Oilers silks when they acquired him from Pittsburgh at the deadline in 2000. Titov chipped in four assists in the seven games he played with Edmonton and then, thankfully, moved on.
Kotalik big-leagued it in the dressing room today, blowing off a request for an interview by Jamie Thomas of Sportsnet.
I’m no fan of Dustin Penner, but if PDP is going to dress against the Blues, it shouldn’t be on the right side on the fourth line with Moreau and Kyle Brodziak.
I get looking at Patrick O’Sullivan on the first line with Horcoff and Ales Hemsky and I can see giving Kotalik a look on the right side with Gagner and Nilsson, but, at the very least, Penner should be playing the left side on the third line with Cogliano and Fernando Pisani. Instead, Liam Reddox will line up on the wing.
With Penner pencilled in with Moreau and Kyle Brodziak, Zack Stortini will get a spot in the press box. From where I sit, that’s a pretty questionable call.
Stortini manages his ice time well and he’s got a head for the game that makes him effective in limited minutes. Then again, maybe that’s just me.
By the numbers
Big numbers are great on a pay cheque, not so good on your scorecard during a round of golf.
Likewise, a big number when you combine the rankings of special teams — power play and penalty killing — isn’t great for a team’s playoff aspirations. I know, what a news bulletin that is.
Going into action Monday night, there wasn’t one team in any of the 16 conference playoff positions with a bigger number than the Oilers. Add Edmonton’s power play (ranked 23rd) and penalty killing (ranked 29th) and you get a double dose of ineptitude totalling 52.
By standings in the Western Conference listing Team/PP rank/PK rank/total: Detroit 1-26-27, San Jose 3-4-7, Calgary 15-6-21, Chicago 6-18-24, Vancouver 16-20-36, Columbus 30-15-45, Dallas 25-23-48 and Edmonton 23-29-52.
The only team with a smoking total not in a playoff position in the West is Minnesota, with 12-2-14. In the East, Buffalo is on the outside looking in despite the lowest total with 5-5-10.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.