Given what they’ve witnessed over the past decade, fans of the Edmonton Oilers don’t need a written invitation to overreact to what they see, so it’s no surprise they’ve been all over the place given the start the Oilers have had.
After four consecutive losses and then three straight wins, Oilersnation has swung between “we still suck,” accompanied by obligatory expressions of doom and gloom, and “we’ve turned a corner,” cloaked in optimism. Framed in that, a fresh set of eyeballs, like those belonging to coach Todd McLellan, comes in handy splitting the difference.
Not prone to blowing smoke at either end of the spectrum, McLellan served up some pretty damning observations after the Oilers turned in their worst performance of this young season in a 7-4 loss to the Washington Capitals, a far better team that doesn’t need the kind of help they got at Rexall Place.
The attention-getting part is we’ve heard the kind of criticism McLellan offered far too often in recent seasons from Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger and Dallas Eakins – about as broad a cross-section of personalities and coaching styles as you can get — after the Oilers dropped to 3-5.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
“They’re a very talented team and they took advantage of a team that was sloppy in a lot of areas,” McLellan said. “We overwhelmed ourselves with stupidity in some situations. Too much easy play all over the rink.
“I’ve been disappointed in our team, the Dallas game in particular, but tonight, I’m much more disappointed in individuals. Certain players that didn’t bring it, weren’t alert, weren’t sharp weren’t performing well. We’re a good team, we’ll grow as a team and we’ll develop as a team, but we have to do it as a team, we can’t afford to have four or five guys not with us.”
Didn’t bring it? Too much easy play all over the rink? Overwhelmed by their own stupidity? Four or five passengers? The Capitals, picked by many to finish at or near the top of the Eastern Conference, don’t need any favors. A bad night by Anders Nilsson was plenty, but to compound that with the rest?
McLellan was asked if his team wasn’t as sharp as it should have been after running off three straight wins against Calgary, Vancouver and Detroit. “Maybe the coach has to keep his foot on the gas pedal all the time,” he said. “You like to think the guys can step up and accept success maturely, but obviously tonight we didn’t.”
WORK TO DO
As was the case with the four losses to start the season and the three wins that followed, getting carried away over one unquestionably bad performance doesn’t make sense. It does make sense, however, for McLellan to call out his team – without ridiculing individuals by name — for any hints of inconsistency in effort and execution, which is what we got Friday.
We know, and so does McLellan, the Oilers aren’t deep enough from front to back in terms of talent and experience. The top six, up front and on the back end, is a work-in-progress. Goaltending, despite being better overall in the early going, is far from proven. We just saw that in spades.
Being short here and there in player personnel are issues for GM Peter Chiarelli. What we saw Friday falls to McLellan and the players. McLellan is a stickler for details, and there’s no question that’ll be made abundantly clear again before the Los Angeles Kings come calling Sunday, as it should be. Those who got comfortable will become uncomfortable in a hurry.
Fans will have another 40 or so losses to digest and lament over the balance of this season. That’s the way it’s going to be. As for the number of games we’ll see that are lost for the reasons McLellan talked about Friday without naming names, my guess is you’ll be able to count those on one hand. That, or the names will change.
BY THE NUMBERS
- Connor McDavid is playing at a point-per-game clip with 5-3-8 through eight games. McDavid has scored those five goals on just 14 shots for a shooting percentage of 35.70.
- Nilsson went into the game against Washington in the NHL’s top 10 with a save percentage of .953 (and a goals-against average of 1.98). After allowing six goals on 17 shots, he’s at .902 and 3.92.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.