GDB 42.0: PLAYING FOR PRIDE

The Oilers won’t reach their goal of making the playoffs. For them it sucks. They want to win, and missing the playoffs for the 7th consecutive season must feel like a swift kick to the junk. However, the Oilers need to suck it up and compete in their final seven games.

If they don’t, then new genernal manager Craig MacTavish will have a much more difficult job trying to re-shape his team. If the Oilers don’t have enough competitive players, it doesn’t matter how much skill, speed or size they assemble. You can’t win if you aren’t willing to match the intensity, desperation and desire of the opposition.

"We basically lost to the &*(&*(#@$% Abbotsford Heat last game…We didn’t just lose, we got our ass kicked," an Oiler player told me yesterday. He was embarrassed by his team’s performance and said the next seven games guys have to show each other they care. He said it off the record, so I can’t attribute it to him, but he was fuming which surprised me since I’ve never seen him that amped up.

We’ll see if his teammates feel the same as him when they face the Minnesota Wild.

The Wild are in 6th place, one point up on St. Louis and two up on Detroit and Columbus. A month ago they looked like a lock to make the playoffs, but they are 3-6-1 in their last 10. They aren’t playing very well down the stretch and the young Oilers have an opportunity to share their non-playoff disappointment with another Northwest division foe.

LINEUP

The Oilers recalled Teemu Hartikainen and Anton Lander yesterday and both will be in the lineup tonight. I’d have thrown Hartikainen beside RNH and Eberle and put Hall with Gagner and Yakupov, because the top line hasn’t scored a goal in five games, so switch it up.

Kreuger will switch up his lines:

Hall/Gagner/Yakupov
Paajarvi/RNH/Eberle
Hartikainen/Lander/Horcoff
Brown/Smyth/Petrell

Smid/Petry
N.Schultz/J.Schultz
Fistric/Potter

Dubnyk

At this point you might as well look at many different combos. It is odd seeing Horcoff on the wing and Smyth at centre, but for one game why not. It shouldnt’ matter what positions the players play, all 18 skaters must simply play hard and smart.  

QUICK HITS

  • Craig MacTavish will be much more decisive and proactive than Steve Tambellini. I’m not sure if he’ll be Paul Holmgren-ish, but he’s not going to hesitate to makes some moves. That could be good and bad of course, but Oilers fans will have lots to discuss this off-season. I suspect you will see at least 7 new regulars on the roster next year.
     
  • I’m not surprised MacTavish said he’d make bold moves. I wrote this on March 27th, yet many claimed I was clueless. A bold move doesn’t mean shipping out 4th liners, it means moving out a good player and getting a good one in return. It won’t be a surprise when MacTavish pulls off a deal, but it will be intriguing to see how many deals he makes.
     
  • If I had to rank the most pressing needs of the Oilers, i’d go with these. 1. A strong veteran shut down D-man who can play 20 minutes. 2. Another puck moving defenceman. 3. One, and ideally two, top-six forwards with strength and size. 4. A third line veteran forward who is physical, can kill penalties and play tough minutes. None of those are easy to find, but that is what this team needs. If Oscar Klefbom makes the team next year, he has to start the season in the third pairing. They can’t rely on him to be a top-four. If he plays his way up the ranks, great, but he shouldn’t be expected to start there.
     
  • The great part about sports is that we will all interpret comments/quotes differently. Kevin Lowe’s comments yesterday regarding "two-types of fans" had many fans irate. He never said he cares or listens to season ticket holders more, he said they communicate with them more, which is true. Ideally, he never should have said "two-different type of fans," because automatically those who aren’t season seat holders will feel offended.  You can say he chose the wrong words, but Lowe interacts with fans more than his players, so any suggestion that he doesn’t care about fans would be misleading. I actually thought his comment about six Stanley Cup rings would rile people up more than his fan comment. Either way, It made for some excellent debates.
     
  • The Wild are in a battle for the final three playoff spots. They can’t afford to take the Oilers lightly, and I suspect they won’t. The Wild didn’t skate this morning, but Mikko Koivu made it clear that they expect the Oilers to be hungry and ready to show their new GM they are worthy of being part of the team moving forward. It was an interesting take from an opposing player, and I’m curious to see if he is right.

TONIGHT….

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Wild played last night, so the Oilers should have more energy and a heightened urge to impress their new GM. Oilers squeek out a 2-1 win.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Someone will try and make the Clutterbuck/Hall hit a story line. Clutterbuck has only fought twice in the last three seasons, but someone will go with the redemption angle. Clutterbuck loves to hit, and if he takes a few healthy runs at the Oilers none of us should be surprised.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Lander has played 60 NHL games thus far, but he’s played 13+ minutes only 9 times. He will play 14 minutes tonight, and he will end his 19-game (dating back to last year) goal-scoring drought in the 2nd period.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

  • I’m happy to see the Oilers bring up Lander and Hartikainen. I’d prefer to see Lander in his normal position – centre, with Horcoff centring a line with Smyth. Make Horcoff and Smyth’s line the 4th line…that should send a message – it’s not benching them, but telling them that they really don’t matter.

    Love the idea of Hall/Gagner/Yakupov. Yak needs more ice time and Hall has been a good playmaker. Those 2 need more of each other.