It seems ridiculous to say the Edmonton Oilers can forget about the playoffs for the eighth straight season after just 21 games, but that’s exactly where the Oilers find themselves with 61 games to play after a 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks Friday.
Fact is, you could have said that, and many have, three or four games ago. The loss to San Jose, coupled with a win by the Buffalo Sabres, leaves the Oilers 4-15-2 and dead-last, 30th, in NHL standings as they prepare to face the Calgary Flames Saturday in a provincial showdown of have-nots.
I’m not going to trot out the threadbare "playing for pride" bit coaches tend to default to when it’s obvious their teams are also-rans as the Oilers already are, but there’s no doubt Dallas Eakins and GM Craig MacTavish are going to learn a lot about the players on their team in the games that remain – aside from the obvious, that this roster isn’t good enough.
Frankly, given the frustration bubbling over as the defeats mount, like that articulated by Taylor Hall after the loss to the Sharks, it’s going to be a long and challenging string to play out. That said, Eakins and MacTavish will find out a lot about who’s-who and what’s-what.
The Oilers played some of their best hockey in several games after the Sharks took a 3-0 lead, but that was cold consolation to Hall in the dressing room as the Oilers packed for a quick flight to Calgary.
Gene Principe of Sportsnet Tweeted this quote from Hall after the game: "I’m just so tired of coming in here after games and having to give a reason why we lost. We just gotta win."
Surrounded by reporters, Hall added: "We played well for the rest of the game, but it doesn’t matter. It’s for nothing.
"I’ve been around for so many losses that you kind of put yourself in a tailspin of wondering what it is. It’s really hard. We’re trying really hard in here but we’re not winning games. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters."
While it’s foolish to try to read too much into what Hall said just minutes after another disappointing defeat – one wouldn’t expect him to be tap dancing with glee — it doesn’t take a vast intellect to figure out Hall and his teammates are just as sick of losing as fans are. The question now is what he and his teammates do about it the rest of the way.
LONG WAY TO GO
The way I see it, there’s a big difference between being dead-last in the standings and dead and last in the 61 games that remain. What I want to see is who digs in and battles the rest of the way. Who fades away? Who flat out mails it in? I’d imagine Eakins and MacTavish want to know, too.
This isn’t about saying, "Don’t give up boys and everything will be OK." That’s naïve. This team is flawed in the way it’s been put together, as has been pointed out for a long, long time, and a bunch of "try-hard" efforts isn’t going to make the deficits in this team’s make-up go away.
Addressing the shortcomings by position and in personnel falls to MacTavish, but he’s going to get a good, long while to assess who fights and who folds from here on out, and that does play into where this team is going in the long term.
Is Hall up for it? Is Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov and on and on? Who is resilient and stubborn enough to suck it up and go balls out with the post-season again a pipe dream? Who has been broken, or is close to it, by all the failure? Who says, "I’m sick of this and I’m not going to take it?" Who says, "I’m sick of this. I quit?"
Who has a heartbeat? Who is dead and last?
PARTING THOUGHT . . .
I wonder if MacTavish is seriously considering bringing in an experienced NHL coach to bolster his staff and I wonder if he still has Paul Maurice’s phone number?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.