Losing is one thing. Failure to muster the gumption to compete, to go down swinging and instead laying down while an opponent buffs his boots on your backside is quite another. The Edmonton Oilers are there now.
The Oilers have assumed the prone position and they aren’t getting up. They aren’t even pushing back now. They’ve quit. At least that’s the way it looks to me after Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Adding embarrassment to ineptitude, the Oilers, save for Mike Comrie and Jason Strudwick, took an Arizona ass-kicking without even a hint of pride or backbone on the way to a franchise-record 10th straight road loss. Aside from the smallest player on the team and another at the bottom of the pay scale, it was, "Please, sir. Can I have another?"
If the Oilers are half as pissed off as their fans are about a season in which they’re destined to finish 30th, they didn’t show it. They didn’t compete. They took whatever the Coyotes felt like giving them without protest. Did you see the look on Robert Lang’s face after he sashayed in front of Jeff Deslauriers and flipped a backhand into the net?
From losers to laughing stocks, this outfit.
"We were passive on the ice, passive in the net. We didn’t compete," said a flabbergasted Pat Quinn. "As long as we’re that easy to beat, we’ll be looking at ugly scores like this one." They are easy to beat. The book on the Oilers is straightforward: stay on them and they’ll spit the bit. They’ve been outscored 13-3 in the first three games of this road trip — a 4-2 loss in Minnesota, a 3-0 whitewash in Denver and Monday’s 6-1 "No mas" fold job.
Fans get it that this team isn’t talented enough without Ales Hemsky and Sheldon Souray in the line-up. They understand Deslauriers isn’t ready to carry the workload left him because of Nikolai Khabibulin’s back injury. They’ll allow that man-games lost to injury and illness have been a factor. Most are even willing to console themselves with the possibility something good might come from the Dive For Five.
But "We didn’t compete?" That’s as damning as it gets. Where was Ethan Moreau Monday? Would another bad penalty by The Captain, maybe a two-hander to send a message, really have hurt when it 4-0 or 5-0 or was he too busy anchoring the "checking" line? Where was, well, anybody else outside Strudwick and Comrie?
A punch in the mouth or a face wash in a scrum isn’t going to make the penalty killing better. It isn’t going to dress up Shawn Horcoff’s minus-31. It isn’t going to fill the gaping holes in the line-up or force GM Steve Tambellini to address them. But it’s something, no? It’s better than just taking it, no? Maybe, like Tambellini, I’m looking at too short a sample size here. I think not.
THE SCRAP HEAP
I know it’s a cliché and a bit naive, given some of the contracts the Oilers are burdened with, but I’d like to think at least some players on this roster — aside from those who’ll be asking their agents to inform Tambellini they want the hell out of Edmonton (hello, Lubomir Visnovsky) — are playing for jobs. Times like this can tell you a lot about a player. Character, or lack of it, gets exposed. Talent being equal, I’ll take the guy who hates to lose over the guy who shrugs his shoulders or turtles when the going gets tough every time.
We’re seeing way too little of the former and too much of the latter. Are Kevin Lowe, who put this mismatched group of players with fat contracts together, and Tambellini, who continues assessing and hoping somebody will take a stiff or two off his hands, taking the same notes? We’ll see.
For now, it looks like fans are stuck with what they got in Phoenix. As the third period began, Sportsnet play-by-play man Kevin Quinn made a point of mentioning to his audience Ilya Bryzgalov had a shutout going. When Dustin Penner scored, Quinn chortled, "Ha, ha. It works every time." Right. "This is as bad as it gets," Horcoff said.
Yes. Yes, it is.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.