Cut the slack

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

Slack. Benefit of the doubt.

Call it what you want. The Edmonton Oilers banked their fair share of it with their often-inspired roll to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Carolina Hurricanes last spring.

They got plenty of it - including right here in this space three days ago - from fans and media in their first eight games, despite too many spotty efforts and a misleading 6-2-0 start.

Well, the Oilers emptied that account, at least in this corner, with a half-assed display in the first 20 minutes of Wednesday's 5-3 loss to Nashville, handing over two points to a tired team they should've jumped on.

At 7-5-0 as the Dallas Stars come calling tonight, the Oilers had better figure out fast that they're fortunate to be above the playoff cut line in the Western Conference. They could be 4-8-0.

MEDIOCRE, AT BEST

They've too often been mediocre, at best.

"You don't get anything for nothing," said coach Craig MacTavish, whose team has side-stepped that rule of thumb a time or two. "You normally get what you deserve. That's great if you're prepared and you play well, you win."

Goaltending and timely scoring saved the Oilers backsides more than once in their first eight games.

Despite the record, you could see hints of indifference, poor execution and panic sneaking into their game.

Then again, a win's a win, right? Hey, goaltending's supposed to win games here and there. Good teams steal points without their A-games now and then, right?

MacTavish saw enough troubling flaws to let his players have it in the ear during a skate in Denver after a 4-3 win, but it's understandable fans might look the other way. Media types, too. I did.

That began to change with a 6-2 spanking from the Phoenix Coyotes Oct. 26, just 24 hours after 6-2 loss in Anaheim that, at the time, could be explained as a lousy night by Dwayne Roloson.

There is no excuse, though, for the lack of intensity the Oilers showed in the first period against Nashville on a night they could've set a team record by starting the season 7-0-0 at home.

"It's a long season," said Joffrey Lupul.

"You're going to win a lot of games you shouldn't win and lose games you shouldn't lose ... we did get some breaks and great goaltending early in the season."

The Oilers haven't shown nearly enough guts, gusto or smarts in three of their last four outings.

They haven't been close, outside of a 4-0 drubbing of the Washington Capitals.

'ATROCIOUS START'

Getting beaten by bad breaks or a hot goaltender is one thing.

So is an off night by Roloson.

Not showing up Wednesday is quite another. So is being foolish enough to think they're anywhere near talented enough to turn it on and off when they damn well feel like it.

"That start was atrocious," Shawn Horcoff said of the no-show against Nashville. "If we don't start like that, we win that game.

"I think MacT said it right when he said our record is turning toward mediocrity. That's something we don't want. We want to press for a division title. We want home ice in the playoffs. All that stuff.

"We feel we have the team to do it, but, at the same time, the effort has to be there on a consistent basis and for 60 minutes, not for 40."


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