The Edmonton Oilers are halfway there. Halfway where?
Their latest John F. Kennedy impression in Dallas in the books after a 4-1 loss to the Stars at the American Airlines Center today, the Oilers finished up a seven-game stretch away from home with a 1-6-0 record to hit the halfway mark in their schedule with a record of 16-22-3 for 35 points.
And with the players they just lost on this trip — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tom Gilbert In Chicago and Jordan Eberle in Dallas – a much bigger story than the six games the Oilers lost, they’re going to have to go some in the next 41 games to match their first-half points total and avoid being a lottery team for a third straight season.
A playoff spot? That was never a reasonable expectation for a team that’s finished 30th the past two seasons. The stated goal of playing meaningful games in March? Only if salvaging some pride is considered meaningful, which isn’t quite what coach Tom Renney had in mind.
With Nugent-Hopkins out for the balance of January with a shoulder injury, Eberle gone for an undetermined period with what looks like an injured right knee, Gilbert banged up and no good news coming on Ryan Whitney, fans are likely in for a miserable second half, meaning angst, consternation and demand for change will be cranked up to an ear-splitting high.
This ought to be a barrel of laughs.
With the lone win on the road trip coming in Chicago, of all places, by way of a 4-3 win over the Blackhawks, the Oilers got two of a possible 14 points from the seven games. Renney was hoping for at least eight.
Despite the disappointment and being lobbed a hanging curveball in a post-game scrum today – somebody asked if fatigue was a factor in the third period – Renney resisted the urge to make excuses, including a hideous injury situation that has again knocked hoped-for gains in the rebuild sideways.
"That’s how it goes," Renney said when asked about the losses of Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. "That’s why you have a system of play, that’s why you work on special teams, you work on doing things collectively.
"It’s not an individual sport at all, so we have to step up now and play a strong team game to keep ourselves close to the pack here and to make up ground." Added Renney about the road trip overall: "We came up a little short, for whatever reasons, there’s no questions about that.
"I’m not doubting anybody’s work habits. I’m not doubting our ability to want to win. I’m not doubting at all, you know, our game plan, if you will, and our ability to execute it. At the end of the day, it’s a long trip and, in some cases, we weren’t able to kind of finish things off like we wanted to.
"We’re closer to doing that now than maybe we were in years past, but we’re still far enough away when it doesn’t get you any points, so we can’t kid ourselves, either."
The real kick in the groin is what happens next and any hopes this team had of having something to play for down the stretch after the losses of Nugent-Hopkins, the leading Calder Trophy candidate, and Eberle, who is leading the Oilers in scoring with 43 points.
Gilbert, a bright spot on a dreary blue line until being vaulted into the boards by cheapshot artist Daniel Carcillo, should be back relatively soon. Not so Whitney, who I suspect, as I wrote the other day, might have to be shut down for an extended period of time.
Add it all up, and this could be a wretched second half. It wouldn’t certainly won’t be one that sees this team make sizeable gains on the 62 points it had the past two seasons – I wrote last week I thought this team could be 16-20 points better before Nugent-Hopkins, Gilbert and Eberle went down. Given the mood of Oilers fans these days, the injuries won’t do much to mitigate a things if the team finishes 27th or 28th.
If that’s the case, rest assured the futures of Renney and GM Steve Tambellini, who didn’t put this team together the right way in the first place, are destined to be hot topics on call-in shows between now and April 7.
"We’re at the mid-point of the season and we assess as a coaching staff, we assess every five games," Renney said. "We look at our segments and we try to draw some conclusions there.
"Our objective, quite honestly, as coaches is to coach what is in front of us, you know? We’re lucky we have a voice to the point that we do. That said, I’m always willing to talk about where we are and where we need to go. Our compass as a coaching staff is clear. Get your group ready to play, go after wins and, in this case, continue to develop."
Yes, I’m guessing a lot of fans want to talk about "where we are."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.