Walk the Walk
Photo credit:© Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
11 months ago
If talking the talk was a substitute for walking the walk, the Edmonton Oilers wouldn’t be in the throes of the six-game losing streak they find themselves in as the Columbus Blue Jackets come calling tonight. But it isn’t and they are.
That understood, assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, who is running the bench along with Jim Playfair in the absence of Dave Tippett (in COVID protocol), caught my ear yesterday with the way he framed where he feels the team is at after blowing off a torrid 16-5-0 start that had everybody buzzing.
With Tippett, understandably a magnet for a fair amount of the criticism during this skid, isolating, Gulutzan literally provides a different voice and a different perspective than what we’ve been hearing. Gulutzan, 50, pre-dates Tippett. Gulutzan joined the Oilers in 2018 under Todd McLellan. That 2018-19 team twice lost six straight games and endured another stretch where they lost eight of 10 games.
To hear Gulutzan tell it, this edition of the Oilers, which has 10 players from the 2018-19 outfit on the roster — most notably @Connor McDavid, @Leon Draisaitl, @Darnell Nurse and @Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — has what it takes to pull the chute on this free-fall.
Yes, even with Mike Smith a game away from re-taking the goal crease. Even with Zach Hyman banged up, Devin Shore out on COVID protocol, Warren Foegele without a goal celebration in 20 games, Kailer Yamamoto trying to rediscover his scoring touch and a power play gone AWOL after a historically good start.
WHAT HE SAID
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“I can tell you that it’s different. It’s different,” Gulutzan said. “And it’s different in a very positive way. I would say four years ago there was frustration, and that’s the common thing when you’re going through adversity, but there was a little bit of a lack of hope.”
“I sense frustration, a little anger, but a lot of belief, so there’s a difference. If you’re in that locker room, there’s a difference. They are not the same. There’s a belief in that crew if you’re around some of the subtleties and happened to pick them up.”
Obviously, McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH and Nurse are more experienced now than when Gulutzan arrived. The addition of veterans Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci provides some moxy. Until their hands thaw out and the players rediscover what it’s like to actually play with a lead again instead of from behind, maybe the difference Gulutzan cites can provide a bump.
“Duncan Keith was pretty quiet getting himself in here in the beginning,” Gulutzan said. “Now, he’s starting to bark a little bit in there in a positive, positive way. So, you’re going to see guys step up. Connor and Leon aren’t the same guys they were four years ago. They’ve got more belief in themselves and their group.
“I’m not going to keep going on and on, but I know four years ago, it could get dark in there. It’s not dark in there now. It’s getting a little laser-focused in there.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
If the Oilers can walk the walk when the puck drops, tonight can become one of those proverbial swing games — a night when the puck finally goes in, when confidence returns, when fortunes turn. When the difference Gulutzan senses becomes tangible.
The Blue Jackets are certainly beatable. With Smith, injured in the third game this season, close to returning and Keith settling back in after a long stretch out maybe there’s some light at the end of this tunnel instead of the dark Gulutzan has seen before.