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Halfway There

There is little wonder there’s so much angst, frustration and venom coming from the fan base of the Edmonton Oilers these days, and it’s not just because the team produced easily its worst effort of the season in a half-hearted 5-1 loss to the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place Friday. That’s a trigger if ever there was one.

It’s bad enough the Oilers came off the Christmas break looking indifferent in their first meeting with the Flames this season, coughing up a goal 11 seconds in and a 2-0 lead for the sixth time in their last nine home games. It’s bad enough they’ve pissed away a promising start, 7-0-1, to hit the halfway mark of the season with a 20-17-4 record in a game they never really contested. The no-show leaves the Oilers sitting at 7-11-2 in their last 20 games and they’ve won just four of their last 15 games on home ice.

It’s worse yet because we’ve seen this act before – the old axiom, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” comes to mind. After picking the Oilers to miss the playoffs again during pre-season, I flip-flopped after the hot start. Likewise, there were others – fans and media types – quick to mention when just about everything was going right that they’d picked the Oilers to reach the post-season. I called it. Sure.

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Either way, nothing pisses people off more than being made to look like a fool, except maybe being made to look like a fool after more than a decade of ineptitude in a town so passionate about the Oilers events like Sunday’s Skills Competition has been sold out since before Christmas. To those who didn’t bite or get their hopes up after the early success, good on you. To those who got fooled again, the signs were there, but here we are.

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WHAT HE SAID

Nov 24, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Dave Tippett, looking as grim and frustrated as I’ve ever seen him, said as much during his post-game availability with reporters Friday. The results we saw to start the season were something of a mirage – this was a team with a multitude of flaws being propped up by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lighting it up, great goaltending from the tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith and by outstanding special teams.

“In the first month, there were some results that came,” Tippett said. “Everybody was all giddy about them, but there were some underlying things there that still had to be worked on. As we’ve got into this last month, some of those underlying things are starting to rear their head. So, we’ve got to continue to find ways to overcome some of those deficiencies we have and turn those deficiencies into strengths. That’s the process we’re in right now.

“You can’t put your finger on one thing. There’s execution parts of it. There’s a lot of different parts of the game that go into it. Our special teams were excellent early on. They haven’t been as good the last month. Our goaltending was excellent early on. It hasn’t been as good the last month. The ability to defend, the mindset to defend that we had coming out of training camp, has eroded.”

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That said, you’d think the Oilers would come out of the break bound, determined and ready to make a statement against the Flames, who came in a point behind them, in the first of five meetings. That, at the very least, they’d look energized and ready to play. Teams can’t always execute the way they’d like, but they can always be robust and play with gusto. It didn’t happen.

“We were off three days for Christmas, and we didn’t come with the mindset to prepare to play a hard game. We were loose,” said Tippett. “When you haven’t skated for three days, show up with the purpose to prepare. Prepare the right way. We were loose the whole (morning skate). We didn’t prepare well enough to win and it showed right from the drop of the puck.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Nov 2, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and center Leon Draisaitl (29) look on at the face-off circle against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at PPG PAINTS Arena. The Oilers won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

So, you get what we got Friday. We hear players like McDavid and Draisaitl, who was terrible against the Flames and has struggled for weeks, trying to come up with answers after another loss. A lot of talking the talk, but not nearly enough walking the walk. You get a team that can’t defend worth a damn and can’t keep the puck out of its own net — a team with any mojo and confidence it had early seemingly gone.

Now, given how flat and listless the Oilers have been too often in recent weeks with that great start history, fans are pointing fingers and we’re getting questions about every aspect of the team from coaching to leadership. Based on what we’ve seen lately, that’s fair game. I had my doubts about this team before the season, but flip-flopped, so I can’t say I called it – at least with enough conviction that I wasn’t fooled by the hot start.

To those of you who didn’t trust the goaltending or believe this team had enough scoring depth, moxy, gamesmanship and the many other ingredients that go into making a contender and didn’t budge in those beliefs, we’re halfway into the season and it appears the Oilers are exactly what you thought they were. It is cynicism well-earned.

Previously by Robin Brownlee