In it together

They’re in it together now. If for no other reason than that, I like the Edmonton Oilers’ chances of making the playoffs a lot more today than I did when this season began.

It’s not so much because the Oilers hit the NHL all-star break with three straight wins and are sitting in a playoff position after Tuesday’s 4-3 victory over Columbus — two of the three wins came on the back of Ales Hemsky, who has been magnificent since his head stopped spinning two games ago.

What I see when I look at the Oilers and what I hear when I talk with players is a team that’s, well, a team after spending the better part of half the season as a bunch of individuals wearing the same jerseys.

The Oilers are 5–1 since they held a players-only meeting after a 4–1 loss to San Jose Jan. 9. I’m not offering this as a news bulletin because it’s been written about here and in the local dailies and discussed on the radio, but it was a heart-to-heart that had to happen, and one that’s been the catalyst for a fresh dynamic in the dressing room and a better team out on the ice, where the proof is always in the pudding.

They have a chance now.

Bridging the gap

“It’s up to the guys who’ve been down this road before to show a little leadership and a little experience,” said Sheldon Souray, a key cog in a veteran core that was being questioned 20 games into the season. “If you do that, every one else will follow.”

Anybody who’s been paying attention heard the talk of a “rift” in the room as the Oilers struggled in the first 40 games. To be fair, characterizing the situation as a rift was an overstatement.

It was more of a disconnect, a failure to communicate, between the 30-something veterans — Souray, captain Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff and Steve Staios, to name just four players — and youngsters like Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot and Ladislav Smid.

By any name, the lack of cohesiveness was apparent to anybody who spent much time in the room. Having looked and listened for awhile — and having people I trust tell me about circumstances I hadn’t actually seen first-hand — I referred to it as “the mix” during the pre-season.

Whatever was said during that players only meeting — I haven’t been told specifics — talking the talk has translated into walking the walk. Not to get all cornpone about it, playing for the guy next to you and not just for yourself means something now. This is a team everybody, regardless of age, is taking ownership in. The difference is noticeable.

Down the road

Now, before anybody accuses me of hopping on the bandwagon with 36 games to play, I’m still not sold that this is a playoff team. Climbing into a post-season position at the 46-game mark is one thing. Holding onto it is quite another.

This is a team with flaws and question marks:

  • The penalty killing remains a weakness.
  • How long can coach Craig MacTavish ride red-hot but old-as-dirt Dwayne Roloson?
  • Can GM Steve Tambellini find a shutdown defenceman (we just saw one wearing Columbus silks in former Oiler Jan Hejda)?
  • Where does Gilbert Brule, assigned to Springfield today with Liam Reddox, fit in the mix?
  • Will Erik Cole and Dustin Penner be better in the final 36 games than they were in the first 46? I’d say yes on Cole and I-don’t-know on Penner.
  • Will Souray and Hemsky stay healthy and be as prolific the rest of the way as they have been?

For all the questions, though, know this: if the Oilers come up short, they’ll do it together. If they go down, it’ll be swinging. They’re in it together.

That wasn’t always the case.

  • swany

    Travis Dakin wrote:

    swany wrote:
    thanks my mistake
    Ha sorry I was just being a dink. That is definatley a huge accomplishment. He has definately taken his game to the next level and damn it feels good to have that again on the Oilers. Good times indeed.

    That's impressive for him to be ahead of Iggy, Hossa and so on. I hope this is the beginning of what Hemmer can do it would be nice to have that guy you can though over the boards and know something could happen a real game braker. And you weren't beening a dick I had a brain cramp

  • swany

    rindog wrote:

    Robin,
    A quick question for you.
    Who do you keep? Pouliot or Brule?
    I am looking for YOUR answer and not what you think the organization will do.

    My pick with Pies comming back is Brule, he is faster, can hit, and I think he has more finish in his game and for MAP's size he hits nothing. I would use MAP and a pick to go after MR. Peca

  • Rick

    sitting_at_my_desk wrote:

    in order tp get to te playoffs our PK has to be way better top 15 at least….

    The PK sucked so bad for the first half that it's unlikely they can pull up into the top 15 league wide so I think that would be a poor way to gauge them at this point.

    If from here on out they provided a PK % that equalled the top team in the league they are still at or just below 80% on the year.

    That said, since the January 9th turning point their PK has been in the neighbourhood of 92% which could suggest that they have turned the corner there as well.

  • Daveee

    I like the fact that they are all sporting the 'stache. Knowing some guys that have played some professional sports, things like this were always fun and brought the team together they said.

  • sitting_at_my_desk

    The oilers need a centerman who can win faceoffs and kill penalties, a 3rd liner…
    whatever happened to reasoner?
    in order tp get to te playoffs our PK has to be way better top 15 at least….

  • RLH

    Prior to the hat trick a few nights ago, everyone was pretty down on Moreau as well. Lots of people asking if he should be wearing that C.

    I would love to get a transcript of that players-only meeting, but I'll say this: A team comes together because of it's leadership. Leadership can actually be someone in power, or simply an outstanding role model. Is Moreau either of those? I would argue yes. He fights for his team, including taking the odd slashing penalty. He seems (from a hundred feet away) to have an understanding of the individuals within the group.

    It's unfortunate that it took over forty games to have this "heart-to-heart". Finally someone in the team broke, had enough, spoke their mind. For the sake of the C on his sweater, I hope it was Moreau. Having an affective leader that is recognized by the team and by the higher-ups (coaches) will be what this team needs to break out of the inconsistency loop.

  • Travis Dakin

    swany wrote:

    thanks my mistake

    Ha sorry I was just being a dink. That is definatley a huge accomplishment. He has definately taken his game to the next level and damn it feels good to have that again on the Oilers. Good times indeed.

  • swany

    Travis Dakin wrote:

    swany wrote:
    I read somewhere that Hemmer is first in the NHL for points VS games played for LW, if this is indeed true that’s a great acomplishment good for him.
    Not true. But he is first in ppg for a right winger…

    thanks my mistake

  • Travis Dakin

    swany wrote:

    I read somewhere that Hemmer is first in the NHL for points VS games played for LW, if this is indeed true that’s a great acomplishment good for him.

    Not true. But he is first in ppg for a right winger…

  • swany

    Mike wrote:

    How long can coach Craig MacTavish ride red-hot but old-as-dirt Dwayne Roloson?
    I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a “young” 38 year old, but Roloson doesn’t have nearly the mileage on him as most professionals his age.
    Hopefully the odd JDD appearance will be all that’s needed.

    Plus he is getting a 6 day brake that should help also

  • Mike

    How long can coach Craig MacTavish ride red-hot but old-as-dirt Dwayne Roloson?

    I don't know if there's such a thing as a "young" 38 year old, but Roloson doesn't have nearly the mileage on him as most professionals his age.

    Hopefully the odd JDD appearance will be all that's needed.

  • swany

    If Hemmer and Souray stay healthy I give them a great shot at the playoffs. As for everyone (myself included) wanting a superstar on the team well he MIGHT have shown up on Jan 20/09. As for the PK I think it will be much better in the second half, I don't have the #'s but since they had that meeting our PK has been fairly good and Pies will be back after the ASB and that will help.