The good news, according to Leon Draisaitl, is the Edmonton Oilers haven’t given up on coach Dave Tippett and they haven’t given up on each other. The bad news is that the “we’re all in this together” declaration from Draisaitl came after a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday.
In other words, the skid that has many outside the dressing room questioning just about everything about the team continues. The Oilers came up with a better effort against the Maple Leafs – more hustle and engagement without their best line-up – but it wasn’t enough to end the struggle that prompted some fans to suggest the team had quit on Tippett in the first place.
Was last night an indication the Oilers haven’t quit? I think so, but I don’t know for sure. After seeing this kind of situation a time or two on the beat at the dailies, I can assure you the players aren’t going to declare publicly they’ve given up on the coach, even if that’s the case. We have to take what Draisaitl said with a grain of salt. If a reporter gets word to the contrary, that happens in private and off-the-record.
Even if we take Draisaitl at face value and take a collective quit by the players out of the equation, there are plenty of issues remaining for the Oilers to straighten out with the team sitting at 18-14-2 with the Ottawa Senators scheduled to come calling Monday. They start in the goal crease, where Mike Smith made an appearance in Hogtown, but they don’t end there.
TALKING THE TALK
“We’re not quitting on anyone,” said Draisaitl, who put the Oilers ahead 2-1 with this 26th goal of the season. “We’re not quitting on our coach, we’re not quitting on ourselves as players, our team, our goalies, nobody. We’re not quitting. Still lots of season left, right, but it’s frustrating. Eventually, you have to find a way to turn it around. And obviously we’re hurting right now with key players out. That never helps. But every team’s going through it, so we’ve got to figure it out eventually.
“It was good compete. I guess it could have gone either way, yet we are standing here leaving again with no points. You hope there are better days ahead, but it’s frustrating. No one wants to lose but we’ve been losing for a long time now. Eventually it’s time to win, so let’s just leave it at that.”
Small picture, the 39-year-old Smith was OK against the Maple Leafs, but we haven’t seen the form he showed before he was injured in the third game of the season. And, given that he’s only seen in action in six of 34 games, it’s fair to ask if Smith can stay healthy. That’s a problem when Mikko Koskinen has shown he can’t handle a heavy load
Big picture, some fans insist GM Ken Holland blew it by coming back with this tandem in the first place. That’s the kind of criticism that gets louder during a losing streak. At times like this, questions about how Tippett uses his line-up come up more often. Last night, there was groaning about Jesse Puljujarvi’s ice time and why, with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out, Puljujarvi wasn’t on late with Smith on the bench for an extra attacker.
This morning on Dustin Nielson’s show, a fair chunk of a segment with TSN’s Ryan Rishaug was dedicated to questioning why Ryan McLeod tried to pass instead of shooting with Jack Campbell down and out and the Oilers pressing. It should be noted McLeod has 33 NHL games on his resume, but when a team is in the dumper as the Oilers are, this is what you get. I’ve even heard fans questioning McDavid’s leadership. Sure.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“Lots of try in our game,” Tippett said. “There’s lots of try, lots of push, lots of people trying to have an impact on the game, which is good to see. We just can’t get that play made that makes a difference in the positive force for us . . . it was a solid team effort in the work part. That being said, we’re a results-orientated business and you’ve got to find ways to get results.”
When you’re where the Oilers are now, and where this fanbase has been for years on end, “try” doesn’t come close to answering all the questions. Only results will do.