On Saturday night, the Oilers got walloped by the Calgary Flames. Losing by a touchdown to a team as bad as Calgary has prompted yet another round of questions about the direction of the Oilers franchise. Just how much should we read into the defeat?
In two words: not much.
There have been 28 games this year in which a team scored seven-or-more goals in a win, and the Oilers have been involved in three of them. That perhaps isn’t surprising; Edmonton’s not a very good team. What is a little surprising is that the Oilers have won two of the three.
Back in November, Edmonton played what was perhaps their best game of the year, routing Columbus by a 7-0 score. Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno summed the game up for the losing side:
That was disgusting. We knew what kind of team they are and we played right into their hands. It is on everybody in this room. It is embarrassing. We handed them goals and gave them power plays and opportunities. It was really tough to be a part of this. I hope we have hit rock bottom here and understand that we are not a team that can play like this. It just didn’t seem like we had that push-back, that answer. We gave them an easy night. They were able to skate around and do whatever they wanted. It’s the wrong way to play. It was 7-0. It’s obviously the wrong way to play.
With the loss, Columbus fell to 7-11-3, just one point ahead of the Florida Panthers for 15th in the Eastern Conference. They overcame that tough start (and that brutal loss) to climb into the dogfight for a playoff spot in the East; as of today Columbus sits just two points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot there with a pair of games in hand.
Less than a month later, the Oilers did it again, humiliating Colorado in an 8-2 blowout. Rather than quote the losing side (though the NHL.com write-up is worth reading just for Patrick Roy’s quote on the game) let’s look at what Taylor Hall said then:
I haven’t been in this league long, but I’ve been in it enough to know that anything can happen on any night against any team. You have to be ready for the opportunity. You just have to come out and play your game. Sometimes you’re going to get eight, and some nights you’re going to get zero. And [Thursday] was a great night.
Anything Can Happen
Realistically, an 8-1 loss to Calgary doesn’t mean anything more than an 8-2 win over Colorado; both games are worth exactly the same amount in the standings and should contribute exactly the same amount to any evaluation of the team.
The difference between Edmonton and Colorado (or Anaheim, a team that lost 7-2 to Calgary just 10 days before the latest Battle of Alberta) is that Avs fans and Ducks fans can look at the NHL standings page and not worry about being stuck in the NHL basement. These rough moments don’t prompt the kind of terrified navel-gazing that they do in Edmonton. The Oilers aren’t a very good team, and when the blowouts happen it’s all too easy to do the sackcloth and ashes routine.
But these games shouldn’t dramatically alter the preexisting beliefs of fans or (especially) those of management because the truth is that sometimes they happen. Does Kevin Lowe need to go? Should Craig MacTavish or Dallas Eakins follow him out the door? Maybe, but if so only because of the longer pattern of events, not because of a bad loss to the Flames.