Goaltending took most of the heat, again, after Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues, but if the Edmonton Oilers intend to snap a four-game losing streak against the San Joe Sharks at Rexall Place tonight, they have to be better at both ends of the rink.
On a night the Oilers mustered a spirited enough effort, 37 shots at St. Louis netminder Curtis Sanford wasn't enough to get it done, while Jussi Markkanen and Mike Morrison fished frozen rubber out of their net four times on just 12 shots.
While GM Kevin Lowe is working the phones to address his goaltending and fans are warming up their "Cujo-Cujo-Cujo" chant, the Oilers, for now, will have to help themselves against the Sharks, who come calling four points back with two games in hand.
"We executed pretty well," offered coach Craig MacTavish after practice yesterday. "In analyzing it again this morning, I wasn't unhappy with very many areas of the game.
"We had a lot of chances. We've got to get more goals on the amount of chances we had. For 37 shots, we should have been able to get at least four goals in a situation like that."
With a lineup depleted by injuries and several players dressed nursing bumps and bruises, the Oilers played with gusto, but were ham-handed around the St. Louis net.
They got no sniff against Sanford despite 13 shots in the opening 20 minutes and hit the first intermission trailing 2-0.
"I thought we moved it around well, but when we did get the five-star opportunities, we didn't put it in the back of the net," MacTavish said. "That's maybe the only criticism I have of the game."
The only criticism?
"I guess those games happen. They happen a lot to us," MacTavish said when pressed about his goaltending. "You have to fight through that.
"We had lots of opportunities to get into the game. I've always maintained the team has to be good enough to overcome good goaltending at the other end and mediocre goaltending in your end.
"Poor goaltending, mediocre goaltending, average goaltending, however you want to describe it, can't be the sole dictator of the outcome of the game. You have to be able to overcome that."
Markkanen allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced, but it was the 3-0 goal, the eventual winner by Jay McClement 17:05 into the second period, he'd like to have back.
Keith Tkachuk wheeled around Chris Pronger untouched on the 1-0 goal and Scott Young found twine with a slapper through traffic to make it 2-0 on a power play.
The winner came when the Finn misplayed Young's shot and the puck bounced off his chest in front to McClement, who buried it. Markkanen will take the blame on that one.
"If I have to pick one of those, definitely the third one," Markkanen said. "He (Young) missed his shot. It came over everybody and I tried to hang onto it and it bounced kind of weird off my chest.
"I definitely should get that and not give that rebound. Bad things happened after that. When the game is 2-0, you don't want to give up the third goal, either."
Markkanen knows the kind of scrutiny he, Morrison and Ty Conklin are under from disgruntled fans and, more important, from Lowe, who won't twiddle his thumbs until Thursday's NHL trade deadline if he can swing a deal for a stopper before then.
"You have to be tough enough mentally to handle that," Markkanen said. "It's part of the business we're in. When things haven't gone as well as we wanted, these are some of the things you have to deal with. That's the way it's going to be.
"You know what's going on when there's some room for improvement in goal. That's one of those things you have to deal with. If you can't handle it, then you can't play."
Morrison, who has beaten the Sharks twice in shootouts already this season and will likely get the start tonight, took over from Markkanen in the third period against the Blues.
After making a game of it on goals by Pronger and Marty Reasoner, the Oilers saw a decent effort fall short when Young blew a slapper past Morrison from 20 feet out in a period in which St. Louis managed just two shots on goal.