SUN Hockey Pool

Don't blame Georges!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

It's Georges Laraque's fault?

Desperate times call for desperate measures - and having won just three of their last 13 games and fallen from striking distance of the division lead to barely hanging on to eighth place, the Oilers do indeed look desperate.

You need look no further than their coach.

A day after a 3-1 loss in which his team let Calgary roll into Rexall Place and win just about every battle for every puck, with Jarome Iginla leading by shining example, MacTavish took it out on his plumbers. He skated the foot soldiers hard in practice and then let them have it in the media scrum afterwards.

RECENT FRUSTRATIONS

"We have to start getting some performance out of those guys," he said, pinning much of Edmonton's recent frustrations on the likes of Laraque, Reasoner and defencemen Cory Cross and Igor Ulanov. "We have a lot of guys who are going hard every night, paying the price every night, but we have other guys who in my estimation don't have that same commitment right now.

"Back in the old days you used to view it as a real privilege to be in the lineup every night and there are a lot of guys who are taking that for granted in the lower part of our lineup.

"Whether you're playing three or four minutes or nine or 11, you have to find a way to be a contributor somehow in the ice time that you're given. There are enough guys on the back end of our lineup, forwards and defence, that aren't giving us that night in and night out."

He's right about the back end of the lineup being weak. Cross and Ulanov are a mess and Laraque, who doesn't know how to be an intimidator and isn't good enough to make a difference as a player, adds virtually nothing to this team. But to pin the recent woes on them is a fairly substantial, and desperate, reach.

Especially when the most glaring problem is at the other end of the lineup. Shawn Horcoff has one goal in the last six games, Raffi Torres has one goal in the last 13 games, Jarret Stoll is currently in a nine-game scoring drought, Ethan Moreau hasn't scored in 17, Radek Dvorak had two goals in 17 games before his injury and zero in the five games since coming back, and Fernando Pisani, getting second and third line ice, scored in just two of the last 15 games and doesn't have a single point in the last eight.

Hard work and solid defensive play from these guys is all well and good, but your top two lines are paid to score. When they don't, especially in the new NHL, they're infinitely more culpable than the grunts.

It brings to mind a quote from Calgary coach Darryl Sutter, who's never met a player he couldn't get the most out of. He says teams win and lose with their best guys, plain and simple.

"People try to overanalyze things," he said earlier this year, when the Flames were mired in an early-season slump. "But in 95% of games, I'll guarantee you that the winning team's best players were better than the losing team's best players. That's all it is."

WASN'T EVEN CLOSE

And, against the Oilers, he says it wasn't even close.

"You could see the difference in (Iginla's) energy level and the energy level of Edmonton's top guys," said Sutter, giving Edmonton the benefit of the scheduling doubt. "I just thought we looked a little fresher than they did and it has a lot to do with the schedule. We both played two nights ago, but they played in Phoenix and we played at home."

That, too might be a reach. Calgary was simply a better team, that wanted it more and got better performances from its big guns in a big game.

If Edmonton is going to reverse its fortunes, and be more like Sutter's Flames, the accountability needs to start at the top, not the bottom.


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