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.

  • scorecoff hemmercules

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    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.

    I was talking more about horc lately, not over the season. That said, lately it seems as if Horc is playing in front of the net more trying to battle a d-man for crease space. Isn't that a role more suited for a bigger guy, with Horc maybe circling the zone looking for a Hemmer pass??

  • Rick

    Tyler wrote:

    I just question the extent to which the attitude creates the results as opposed to being created by them.

    I've wondered the same thing, not just down the stretch either.

    All year long when the Oilers were heading into the game or disecting the game the day after, most of the talk seemed to be about what the opposition was doing. It was very often about what they needed to do to neutralize what the opposing teams were having success with.

    There was very little in terms of the Oilers dictating the play and forcing the opposition to worry about them.

    All year long this team had a strange attitude about the type of game they have tried to play.

    At the very least I think this explains a fair amount in terms of why the Oilers haven't done nearly enough on home ice.

  • Harlie Chuddy

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    @ 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.

    So who is the guy who should loosen these guys up? The coach? The assistant coaches? The team leaders? The masseuse? Tony Robbins? Joey Moss?? I mean, who's head does this fall on? Someone must take ownership and get these guys comfortable. If the coaches can't recognize that the guys are tight and they have no solution to calm the guys down then would this not be cause for a coaching change? I'm not saying can the coaches and gut the team today but if we don't make the playoffs I demand/expect many changes over the summer.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    The fact that every time the Oilers take a penalty the puck is likely to end up in the back of their net can't have them too relaxed either…

  • J-Bird

    Personally, I find myself in a position where I'm seriously hoping for Oiler losses. We need a change. I'm hating a lot right now, hating the stupid GM in Lowe for his questionable moves, his drafting. I'm really hating MacT because he's the only person not accountable on the bench, players, young players, be damned.

    I don't know what this feeling I have is? It's strange. I freeking hate this team right now. In years past I'd be watching the scoreboard nightly, hoping things went their way. These days my only hope is that teams chasing them win, and the Oilers continue to be what they are. Crap. That's the only way a change will happen here.

    I sat and listened to Lowe et al blabbing about "competative balance" and all that crap. Well, here we are in year 4 of the "new order", and we finished 8th once, missed twice, and are on the verge of missing a 3rd time. I don't see how 25% cuts the mustard in a cap world.

    I hate them. Lots. Lowe and Mac gotta go. Only here would it be tollerated. They get a free ride from the media in this city, and that really irks me. In Toronto or Montreal they would have been chewed to shreds, which they diserve.

    Lots of hating going on from the fans right now. I don't know how they can't feel it?

  • MacTavish has got to get over his butt hurt towards Dustin Penner. Having him on the 4th line is pointless. Yeah he's a big lazy goof but when the guy comes out to play he's very effective. Having him slotted further down the depth chart than Liam Reddox is a joke, and having Reddox in over Stortini is more of the same. This team is already soft enough to play against, why make it worse by taking the caveman out?

  • Ogden Brother wrote:

    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.

    You must have some pretty saintlike co-workers then.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    Also, is the baseline after "Under Pressure" implicit? Because it sure has been going through my head ever since I read the title

  • Peter Pan

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    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…

    Ha ha… those were the days.

  • Ogden Brother

    MikeP wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    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.
    You must have some pretty saintlike co-workers then.

    You work or you quit, pretty simple concept. Theirs no excuse for an NHL player to be out of shape and lazy. Mind boggling that people stick up for Penner in this case.

  • Maverick

    The thing with Kotalik is every time he enters the zone, Hemskey comes flying across to the left side with the puck.

    How many times does he have to see this to clue in and maybe go to the right so that he's not standing behind Hemskey making himself totally useless

  • Ogden Brother

    topshelf FMNF wrote:

    @ Ogden Brother:
    Do you know for a fact that he is out of shape?

    Multiple media has mentioned it… spector for one not long ago.

  • Ogden Brother wrote:

    topshelf FMNF wrote:

    @ Ogden Brother:
    Do you know for a fact that he is out of shape?
    Multiple media has mentioned it… spector for one not long ago.

    Awesome. Did they quote his MaxVO2 levels?

  • Ogden Brother

    MikeP wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    topshelf FMNF wrote:
    @ Ogden Brother:
    Do you know for a fact that he is out of shape?
    Multiple media has mentioned it… spector for one not long ago.
    Awesome. Did they quote his MaxVO2 levels?

    Do you have proof he's in "NHL shape"?

  • Robin Brownlee

    I had a chat with Roloson this morning. Here's part of what he said about the different emotion and feeling in the dressing room this season as opposed to the stretch drive a year ago.

    "Last year, there wasn't any pressure," Roloson said. "It was a bunch of first-year guys who were thrown into situations. It was go out and do whatever you want to do. There were no ramifications.
    "Now, things are magnified if you make a mistake, whether it's a veteran or a rookie. That's part of being a pro and being able to handle the situations."

  • Dennis

    For all I've said about the team, if they could kill a penalty, this wouldn't be such a dire situation.

    So, we can talking about pressure and being tight – and yeah, I guess that Could be a factor in terrible PK play – but then I'd just look at us using the same guys and approach to much harm over the entire season.

    I read today that MacT's going back to the up front PK troika that rolled down the 08 stretch: 27-89-83. So, that's a step in the right direction.

    But let's see what he does on the PK.

  • willy fisterbotom

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    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.

    thats gold RB

  • Robin Brownlee

    Mike Krushelnyski wrote:

    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.

    Mac talked about this morning. Paid lip service to liking what Stortini brings, but really didn't explain why he's sitting right now.
    "We's one guy who, as a coach, you're questioning whether he should be in or out of the line-up," MacTavish said.
    "We've got a lot of forwards. You start looking at guys who could come out and Zack come in, there are a few, maybe. But I just kind of try to make those decisions game by game right now."

  • german titov

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    Yeah, so I never backchecked. But ponder this – if I had, would Tommy Salo have looked to the Avalanche like he was worth trading Tom Gilbert for?

    No one ever thanks me for that.

    I don't want to make this personal, Robin, but do you have a Russian song written about you?

    If the answer is no, then you're the flaccidest. End of argument.

  • Ogden Brother wrote:

    MikeP wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    topshelf FMNF wrote:
    @ Ogden Brother:
    Do you know for a fact that he is out of shape?
    Multiple media has mentioned it… spector for one not long ago.
    Awesome. Did they quote his MaxVO2 levels?
    Do you have proof he’s in “NHL shape”?

    MacT keeps throwing him over the boards. He's out there, skating. You're the one asserting he's out of shape; here's a hint from Science School. "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'." I'm not asserting that Penner is in the shape the coach would like to see him in; I'm sure he's not. That's a far cry from the Gregorian "fat guy can't wait for a Burrito" assertion.

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ german titov:
    Nice song, Titov. How proud you must be to have a ditty like that dedicated to you. Is that singer the lead trombone player in the Easter Parade when he's not on stage?

  • Ogden Brother

    MikeP wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    MikeP wrote:
    Ogden Brother wrote:
    topshelf FMNF wrote:
    @ Ogden Brother:
    Do you know for a fact that he is out of shape?
    Multiple media has mentioned it… spector for one not long ago.
    Awesome. Did they quote his MaxVO2 levels?
    Do you have proof he’s in “NHL shape”?
    MacT keeps throwing him over the boards. He’s out there, skating. You’re the one asserting he’s out of shape; here’s a hint from Science School. “The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’.” I’m not asserting that Penner is in the shape the coach would like to see him in; I’m sure he’s not. That’s a far cry from the Gregorian “fat guy can’t wait for a Burrito” assertion.

    Great stuff

  • german titov

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    Songs about me on YouTube: 1
    Songs about Brownlee: 0

    NHL points, Titov: 377
    NHL points, Brownlee: 0

    And yes, I'll admit it, I backcheck like you keep mainstream media jobs.

  • blu

    I am surprised by all the pro Stortini comments flying here, though I'm coming around myself I guess. My issues might just be related to dental hygiene …

    I think Reddox is well geared to be on a solid street hockey team.

    Horc is being paid like the scorer he isn't … but we need to keep paying him for his work on the dot.

    If I read Poti's name once more, I'm going to have at least a slight coronary.

  • Robin Brownlee

    german titov wrote:

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    Songs about me on YouTube: 1
    Songs about Brownlee: 0
    NHL points, Titov: 377
    NHL points, Brownlee: 0
    And yes, I’ll admit it, I backcheck like you keep mainstream media jobs.

    Titov, do your homework and understand there's a line you don't cross. You just did.

  • swany

    RB could the reason Storts is out is that Mact is trying to get a PLAYOFF ready lineup going, we all know that fighting in the playoffs is non existant and the 4th line of Penner, Brods, Redox has more upside than one with Storts in it? Last night for the first time Penner looked like a guy willing to use his size somewhat, I said this to Gregor and he agreed that Mact might be playing Penner with Moreau to learn from example (except the penalties), and in the last couple games it looks like it's working.

  • swany

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    german titov wrote:
    @ Robin Brownlee:
    Songs about me on YouTube: 1
    Songs about Brownlee: 0
    NHL points, Titov: 377
    NHL points, Brownlee: 0
    And yes, I’ll admit it, I backcheck like you keep mainstream media jobs.
    Titov, do your homework and understand there’s a line you don’t cross. You just did.

    Lucky RB got out of the mainsteam Media just before they all go broke, good on you Robin.