Too little, too late for Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

The madness continues.

If this hockey team doesn't drive you crazy, you haven't been watching. And if you have been watching, feel free to remove the forks from your eyes. The Oilers don't play again for five days.

No wonder head coach Craig MacTavish is going grey trying to figure out his players. One minute they're lifeless, gutless quitters, the next minute they're battling, swarming, never-say-die comeback kings.

Take last night, please.

The Oilers fell behind 4-1 and looked terrible doing it, then launched a furious third-period rally that fell one goal short in a 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Clearly, this is a team with a split personality. And lately, the side of the personality that contains the suck chromosome is taking over.

"It helps in one respect (that they came back), but in another respect it highlights the disappointment and regret in not starting the game better," said MacTavish, whose club is 9-9-2 at the quarter pole.

"The first two-and-a-half minutes were a disaster against this team, again. I can't put my finger on why."

Just like they did earlier this season in Pittsburgh, falling behind 5-0 before roaring back to lose 5-4, the Oilers looked like two entirely different teams.

"We're obviously disappointed; any time you lose it's disappointing," said centre Shawn Horcoff. "It was too little, too late."

"We're easing our way into games and it's costing us," added defenceman Sheldon Souray. "We have to get better, we have to play better, we have to be more consistent."

For 40 painful minutes there weren't enough buses in the entire ETS fleet to throw Oilers under.

The Wings were so much better, it wasn't even funny. And the Oilers seemed all too quick to shrug their shoulders and say, "It's not our night, boys."

"We need a collective elevation in our toughness, our physical toughness and our mental toughness," said MacTavish, who didn't see a lot of players who seemed terribly upset that they were down 3-0 in the first 10 minutes.

"We're not a big team, but we have to compete harder. It doesn't hurt to go in and pole-axe somebody, go in there and just pound somebody.

"I don't care how big you are, just go in there and knock them off the puck."

Instead, Detroit made it look ridiculously easy.

Already up 1-0 on an even-strength marker at 1:50, they scored 24 seconds into their first man-advantage and six seconds into their next one to all but win the game in the first 10:11.

"With the faceoff in your own zone on every penalty kill, it highlights the urgency, the importance of being able to win a faceoff," said MacTavish. "And they killed us on special teams faceoffs, just killed us.

"On the penalty kill, we need Horc to step up and win some faceoffs for us. Brodziak is operating at 50%, but it doesn't seem that way when we're not winning the most critical faceoffs. Those guys have to find a way to win those faceoffs."

Starting goalie Dwayne Roloson got the hook after giving up three goals on 11 shots, replaced by Mathieu Garon, who hadn't seen any ice since Nov. 6.

Trailing 4-1 in the third, Lubomir Visnovsky made it 4-2 at 12:54 and Souray made it 4-3 just 21 seconds later. That was as close as they'd come.

"It just comes down to knowing where you fit in in this lineup," said Ethan Moreau.

"We can't have 10 guys who think they're top-6 forwards. Everybody has to bring a physical element and everybody has to skate and forecheck, that's the way our team was built.

"It's up to us to play that way because right now we're in between.

"We're not good enough to play a skilled game and we're not competitive enough to play a forecheck game, so we're kind of floating in space right now."


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