Glass is half empty

ROBIN BROWNLEE, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

If the playoffs began today, the Edmonton Oilers would need tickets to get into a first-round game.

That's the bottom line for a team that went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against Carolina last spring. After a December they'd rather not remember, the Oilers are 19-18-4 and are going to need yet another second-half roll to reach the post-season.

Are the Oilers capable of it? Well, that's a definite maybe. Suffice to say, with a defensive corps - or is that corpse? - that's proven punchless on the attack and overwhelmed in its own end and Dwayne Roloson looking worn out, coach Craig MacTavish and GM Kevin Lowe have, to understate, issues.

The Oilers begin the second half against the Kings in Los Angeles tomorrow having won just three times in their last 13 games and looking in desperate need of help on the back end.

With that in mind, here's the Oilers mid-term report cards, with players graded A through D.

Any grade below a C-minus is considered a failure.

---

JARRET STOLL: He's on pace to match his career-high 68 points of last season, despite goal droughts of seven and nine games. A producer on the power play and a demon on the faceoff dot. (A+)

ALES HEMSKY: He's the most talented Oiler by so much it's ridiculous, but not the most productive. For all his flash and dash, he's scored seven goals. Still, who would you rather watch? (B+)

PETR SYKORA: Any defensive deficiencies aside, he's delivered the punch Lowe wanted when he signed him. Despite struggling in December, he leads the team with five game-winning goals. (B+)

FERNANDO PISANI: The optics of his fat contract is the big knock. What, his playoff scoring spree made you think he'd get 40 goals? Whatsa-matta-with-you? Reliable as always. Playing hurt. (B)

DWAYNE ROLOSON: No denying Roli's had too many Andre Racicot moments the last month, but the Oilers aren't near .500 if he didn't save everybody's bacon in October and November. (B)

LADISLAV SMID: How many 20-year-old defencemen are playing in the NHL? Smid's plus-minus is ugly, but he's shown good instincts for the game and he's got an edge. A pleasant surprise. (B)

STEVE STAIOS: Rode shotgun for Smid and has been a consistent physical force playing 21 minutes a night. Staios gives you all he's got. He hits. He fights. He blocks shots. Unsung hero. (B)

RAFFI TORRES: Streaky as always, he gets an A and a D in about the same number of games. Won't approach last's season's 27 goals, but he's still a plus-10 on 13 minutes a night. (B-)

MARC-ANTOINE POULIOT: Still getting his feet wet, but you can see how well-rounded he is. Too early to know if he'll top out as a third-liner or if there's an offensive top-six player here. (C)

MATT GREENE: If nothing else, deserves a passing grade for his first NHL goal, which was an absolute dandy. Still raw, but there isn't a forward who enjoys facing this big, willing sophomore. (C)

JAN HEJDA: Caught behind the top six and hadn't played enough to get into a groove until Smid got injured. Doesn't bang with the gusto you want for a big, strong player. Has shown some poise. (C)

JUSSI MARKKANEN: Two forgettable performances - a 6-2 loss in Phoenix and a 7-4 loss to Los Angeles - hurt his numbers and playing so little behind Roloson might have dulled his sharpness. (C)

MARTY REASONER: Valuable on the penalty kill, but his play at even strength has been mediocre, as are offensive numbers. Lots of guts. Hasn't short-changed anybody. on effort. (C)

TOBY PETERSEN: A ham-and-egger. He's done what he can when he can while being spotted in and out of the line-up and moved around. Has to break-even in plus-minus to justify the ice time he gets. (C)

JASON SMITH: Still blocks a load of shots, but Smith is playing banged up and hasn't been the physical force he usually is. He's been a train wreck moving the puck and he's too often a step behind.(C)

DANIEL TJARNQVIST: The Swedish Tom Poti. Yes, he plays too soft, but he leads the team in ice time and is second to Bergeron in points on a ham-handed blueline. Tjarnqvist is what he is. (C)

MARC-ANDRE BERGERON: The puck is too often a live grenade on his stick and he's prone to getting rattled. Needs a jolt of confidence and the luxury of playing fewer minutes until he gets it. (D)

SHAWN HORCOFF: Can't fault the effort, just the results. Gets more ice time than any other forward. Coming on, but will have to go like a house on fire to get 50 points after 73 last season.(D)

J.F. JACQUES: Getting slapped around by Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa in his first scrap didn't help his confidence. Laid a licking on Jeff Cowan. Has to bring it every shift. He hasn't. (D)

BRAD WINCHESTER: All over the place since an awful training camp. He's been physically dominant in some games, invisible in others. You wonder why he can't deliver all the time. Confidence? (D)

CALLING SHOTS

KEVIN LOWE: In the end, Lowe's season will be judged on what he does to address the need for at least one defenceman. Getting the puck-moving rearguard this team so obviously lacks after the loss of Chris Pronger is easier said than done. Part of the problem is that some of the players Lowe signed to long-term contracts, like Shawn Horcoff, have struggled and can't be moved at what they're earning even if Lowe is inclined to put them on the block. In that regard, Lowe's largesse - critics say overpayment - at the contract table last summer hasn't been rewarded. At the mid-term, you can only judge Lowe on who he's brought in since last season. That would be Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, Marty Reasoner, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Jan Hejda, Petr Nedved and Petr Sykora. (C)

CRAIG MACTAVISH: He hasn't once used it as an excuse, but you can't overstate how the loss of two players - Ethan Moreau to a shoulder injury and the off-season trade of Pronger - has impacted character and the talent level of the roster MacTavish has at his disposal. While MacTavish has yet to find forward combinations he can rely on to be consistently productive, the root of the Oilers' offensive woes begins with the simple fact this team doesn't have a clue how to get out of its own end, and that begins with the blueline. Don't blame the cook for preparing ham and eggs seven days a week if he's not the guy buying the groceries. (B)


Videos

Photos