Under pressure

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.

Ho-hum

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.

Pardon me

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.

  • Kevin "Lets the shot go!" Quinn

    great stuff as always Robin…I never got why MacT needed Kotalik to start on the top line with Hemmer and Horcoff

    He's never been a 1st liner and I know Hemsky was whispering into his ear about playing with his buddy but that experiment should've ended before game 1

  • Ogden Brother

    oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote:

    I would love to see Mac t gone next year and Penner playing on the 1st or second line lighting it up,he wont play for Mac t cause he is pissed at him if you where in Penners skates what would you do?

    I'd suck it up and do what I was paid to do… just like anyone else in real life.

  • Hopefully tomorrow night Patty O'Sullivan will have found his lucky charms and will have shared them with his team members…we need some goals and some good bounces.

    I wanna see the Oilers deliver a quick and decisive leprechaun kick right to the blarney stones of the St. Louis Blues and put up a big fat W tomorrow night.

    This is it! Toim to foight loik de Oirish!

    GOILERS!

    (fmnf)

  • 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.

    It's not just you. I don't know how this guy gets a seat in the pressbox.

  • german titov

    Damnit, Brownlee! that was uncalled for. Some of my four assists were sweet, and I would have put a bunch more on the board if I had some freakin' linemates.

    Let's see how many points YOU put up between Michel Picard and Pat Falloon!

    And if I'm soft, you're flaccid.

  • Travis Dakin

    german titov wrote:

    Let’s see how many points YOU put up between Michel Picard and Pat Falloon!

    Pat Faloon was the number 2 draft pick overall. Right behind Lindros. That guy was a solid pick….

  • MacT's shelf life is coming to an end.

    His players know it(witness their consistent effort for him) and he knows it. He will gracefully call it quits at the end of the season.

    Next year Penner will have a new coach/psychologist/motivator to try and coax him out of lackadaisical play.

    Katz will be looking to put Lowe in charge of his baseball team since he has long since realized what a mess Lowe has made of the organization's players.

    We aren't going to have a winner here for ages until things change.

    The Oil season is over. These guys will play like Stanley Cup champions the last few games of the year to try and make the playoffs but like always it will be the inconsistent effort that killed their chances and their coach.

  • Deep Oil

    BennyHammer wrote:

    Brownlee – Green beer at Rexall tommorow? Yes or No? I need to know if I should book Wednesday off.

    Don't worry about the color, in true Northlands fashion, the beer will be warm…. not only on St. Patty's day – but everyday.

  • Deep Oil

    oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote:

    I would love to see Mac t gone next year and Penner playing on the 1st or second line lighting it up,he wont play for Mac t cause he is pissed at him if you where in Penners skates what would you do?

    Penner is being a premium to play for MacT and become a fourth liner at best……..

  • Deep Oil

    Rogers Sportsnet Chris Nichols seems to think that K-LOWE has a jaw dropping effect on the free agent market… this obviously reads: insane stupid money
    for finding a partner for Hemmer…..
    ______________________________________________________

    http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/blogs/2009/03/11/radulov-s-return/

    Hmm. Unless my Oilers wanted to gamble on him. They could use a finisher like him to play with Ales Hemsky and K-Lowe could instruct Steve Tambellini on the finer points of Jaw-Dropping Offers 101.

  • @ BennyHammer: Green beer would be awesome – now everyone team wearing 'green' uni's like the NBA does would be very NHL-ish. Worst PR move of all time.

    Stortini is the only gu on the team wwho plays his ass off every shift, well besides Reddox I guess. Reddox doesn't play the same game as Storts though. The last couple of games Storts would have been useful.

    As much as I hate seeing Storts on the ice while we are down by a goal in the last 2 minutes, I guess he is out there because at least you would get effort out of him.

  • Robin Brownlee

    german titov wrote:

    Damnit, Brownlee! that was uncalled for. Some of my four assists were sweet, and I would have put a bunch more on the board if I had some freakin’ linemates.
    Let’s see how many points YOU put up between Michel Picard and Pat Falloon!
    And if I’m soft, you’re flaccid.

    Let's get this straight: you're out at centre ice cutting figure-8s, slapping your stick on the ice and yelling "I'm open" while teams pump rubber at Tommy Salo and Tom Poti is stick-checking like his life depends on it, and I'm "flaccid?" Titov, you're a putz.

  • Hockey Gods

    Way off topic, but did anyone see Ovie last night? No goals but ten shots on goal, and most of them looked like a true scoring chance. Then he has 3 or 4 highlight real hits when he isn't scoring, and one of those hits lead to a scoring chance.

    Oh how I dream of a superstar like that in Oiler silks.

    ** Runs to bedroom and hugs pillow with tears running down my face **

  • Tyler

    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.

    When does the pressure start to accumulate for the Blues? They're a point back now, albeit with the Oilers holding a game in hand. Shouldn't they be feeling the heat of a playoff spot and, therefore, starting to suffer from the effects of that heat, by now? Or does the team become affixed to the team in a playoff spot at, say, game 61, and the other teams are therefore without pressure? Just curious about how this works.

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ Tyler:
    The Blues are playing with house money right now. When you're written off and supposedly out of it and mount a charge, it seems to me teams like the Blues just adopt an attitude of "Let's see how far we can take this."

    There's obviously no way to measure it and I'm not suggesting it's always the same across the board, but the Blues, based on most projections, weren't contenders and now they are, despite injuries to key players.

    The Oilers? How's that charge for a division title and third place coming along?

  • Rick

    On the PP, I am a little surprised that Horcoff's quote yesterday isn't getting any play around here.

    I always figured that when the rubber hits the ice the players have a fair amount of free reign to adlib and yet yesterday when Horcoff was asked about Hemsky not getting space along the half boards (or something like that) Horcoff came back with something to the effect of 'we are only doing what we are told to do, MacT likes to draw up the plays'.

    Kindof a damning comment and quite a departure from the stock answers of needing bounces and working harder.

  • scorecoff hemmercules

    @ Rick:

    Did horc really say that?? Seems like a few guys have been making quiet cracks at MacT over the season.

    Seriously though, "Get it to Hemmer, then over to Souray for the big shot" is our only move (or over to Horc for a swing and a miss!). Most predictable PP in the league. No movement, every player sits in their 10 foot circle and watches for the pass to Souray.

    I noticed Gagner and his line mates the other night on the PP were cycling and passing all over the place. They actually had the other team confused and kept it in the zone longer than 10 seconds. Then later that night they were back to the same old "sit where you are" style. Did MacT give them hell for playing outside of the MacT box???

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    Chris wrote:

    If O’Sullivan scores a Hatty he will forever be known in Edmonton as St Patrick!

    I think Mr. Roy would be quite upset with you giving that name to O'Sullivan… luckily he can't 'ear you cause he has both Stanley Cup ring plugging 'is ears.

    @ Robin:

    Has there been any justification from MacT for sitting Stortini in the pressbox? I think he's been fantastic in his role this year, hits anything that moves, leads the league in fighting majors, makes mad dashes straight for the crease when we've got the puck and chipped in as much offence as can be expected. Also, I can't recall the last time he took a penalty that wasn't for roughing or fighting, shame he's going to be a spectator again.

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    Tyler had a post up this summer which rather emphatically disagreed with the predictions that Lowetide and I made (both of us said 6th in the West for the Oilers).

    He was one of the few who had them ranked even lower than you. In other words, I think he'd argue that the Oilers are performing to exactly where they should be expected to perform.

    Come to think of it, you'd argue the same thing, wouldn't you?

  • scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

    Seriously though, “Get it to Hemmer, then over to Souray for the big shot” is our only move (or over to Horc for a swing and a miss!). Most predictable PP in the league. No movement, every player sits in their 10 foot circle and watches for the pass to Souray.

    I agree that it's horribly predictable, but as for Horcoff (or as other folks like to call him "Whiffcoff"), while he's missed some goals he still has 7 powerplay markers on the season.

    The only other Oilers' forward with more than 4 is Ales Kotalik.

  • Rick

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    I agree that it’s horribly predictable, but as for Horcoff (or as other folks like to call him “Whiffcoff”), while he’s missed some goals he still has 7 powerplay markers on the season.
    The only other Oilers’ forward with more than 4 is Ales Kotalik.

    That's falling through the same trap door as the Penner should be on the top line defence.

    It's just pointing out the best of a bad bunch and doesn't change that from almost every angle they simply haven't been good enough.

  • Tyler

    The Blues are playing with house money right now. When you’re written off and supposedly out of it and mount a charge, it seems to me teams like the Blues just adopt an attitude of “Let’s see how far we can take this.”

    Yeah, I've got no doubt that they do and MacT can't shut up about this topic either. I just question the extent to which the attitude creates the results as opposed to being created by them. Cogliano seems to be getting quoted a ton about how it was different last year. The kids had the puck going into the net at 1980's rates. That can't just be playing loose; playing loose can't turn a group of guys into Mario Lemieux.

  • scorecoff hemmercules

    We need the "Let see how far we can take this" mentality more than ever right now. Minnesota twice, Anaheim twice, Calgary twice, Detroit and Chicago. Thats a mountain if I've ever seen one!

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    What does Reddox really bring to the table that warrants him playing on this team at all?? I dont spend much time focusing on him during games. Does he stand out at practice at all?? I know MacT likes pluggers and role players like Reasoner but seriously, is Reddox good at anything??

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    Yes, I would.
    But I'm not one of the players who had to hit the ice for Game 1 with MacT's talk of division titles and being contenders ringing in my ears.

    If you don't have expectations, why play? At the same time, the coach set the bar unrealisitically high in pre-season. I can tell you, this is a very tight team right now. You can cut the tension in the dressing room with a knife.
    The Blues? What were they supposed to do this season? Then, they lose Kariya and Brewer etc. Like I said, they weren't supposed to be in the running in the first place, so I don't think they start to tote around any of the pressure the Oilers have just because they're close now.

    In some ways, it's like the 2006 Oilers. Once they beat the Red Wings in the first round, everything was gravy, no?

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ Tyler:
    You're right, but I just know that when I look around the dressing room right now, I see a group of guys wound way too tight.
    I don't know how much you weight that in relation to talent, depth, experience etc., but it's a factor. Any edge — playing loose as opposed to walking on egg shells — in a pack of also-rans might be the only margin a team like the Blues needs to mount the kind of charge we're seeing.