Step up or step off

TERRYJONES

, Last Updated: 6:52 AM ET

It's last call for urgency and desperation.

It's last call to get this young team with so much skill and so little will to spit or get off the spittoon.

Tonight the Edmonton Oilers enter now-or-never land against the team from Disneyland after losing four of their last five to drop to 10th place in the NHL's wild, wild west.

And it's last call to heed the call and to heed the caller.

"The responsibility and burden is too much to be shared by 10 guys, by 12 guys, it's got to be shared by everybody," coach Craig MacTavish said yesterday.

"Everybody has to be accountable to step up and play an intense game. What you want to do in a team game is step up and demonstrate to your teammates how much they can count on you. And that's your value.

"Now is the time to deliver. Now is the time to show your value to your teammates.

"It's not about me. It's not about the organization. It's about the players doing it for one another. The one thing you don't want to have after a game is the players sitting in the dressing room wondering, 'Where the hell was he tonight?'

"That just can't happen in a critical situation. You are not only letting yourself down, you are letting your teammates down.

"There are six games remaining in the season and we're still asking 'Are we committed enough to start the game?' and 'Are we intense enough to start the game?'

"In this situation, that's an indictment in a lot of ways. We have to rectify it in a hurry."

It's an indictment of MacTavish, in a lot of ways.

The Oilers, in Game 76 of the season, have so turned off the town in the year they were supposed to turn it on, that they may now have to manufacture their own energy in the building for their biggest game.

It seems silly to say it, but Edmontonians have decided they used to like the Oilers a lot better when they were a lot worse than this so-far groping group of big skill, small will, not-enough-guts-to-go-for-glory gang.

It's true, admits captain Ethan Moreau.

"It's odd, it's frustrating and it's a little bit embarrassing. We had that will for a long time. It was a lot of hard work and everybody taking responsibility."

Moreau was asked about coach MacTavish responding with "I don't know why we're not, but were not ..." to several questions after Sunday's home loss to Minnesota.

The captain says the leadership group is saying the same thing to each other.

"Some things are articulated and communicated better through your teammates," he said.

But he can't answer why they didn't show up for the start of games in Phoenix and against Minnesota, why they're not going to the net, why they refuse to shoot, etc., etc., etc.

That's part of the problem here. There's the team of the past and the team of the future here, and together they're making a mess of being the team of the present.

The short-on-skill long-on-will Oilers who used to get in these stretch runs worked hard, busted their collective butts and gave it everything they had instead of having half a team of passengers pulling parachutes and being the general all-around coach-killers they've been for most of this season.

"We've always had that here and it's been a struggle virtually all year long and that's reflected in our home record," said MacTavish.

"If you're going to be a good team at home you've got to come out and take charge of the game right away. You've just got to go out and grab a game. The game in Phoenix is the perfect example. We just needed to go grab that game and get it. Same against Minnesota," added the coach.

The hot seat was pretty hot yesterday and it would have been interesting if the suddenly insulated Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini had been there to take their turns, but it was MacTavish who was playing the piano as fast as he could.

The loaded question, however, came late in MacTavish's off-day press conference.

"Do you still feel, Craig, like the messages you want this team to get are being sent, delivered and received?"

MacTavish tried to handle that evenly, but there was a bit of a bite to the way he clipped his words.

"That's for you to decide. Watch the next six games and judge it."

If they play the way they played the last five, the next two will do.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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