DETROIT — First to worst? Absolutely.
Anybody wondering why the Oilers are dead last in the Western Conference need look no further than the opening faceoff, or, as they refer to it in the Edmonton dressing room: “20 minutes till game time.”
They’re not ready to play. Simple as that.
They’ve given up the first goal six times in the last seven games.
They given up the first goal in the first six minutes five times in the last nine games.
And they’ve held the lead after 20 minutes just twice this season.
Twice. Sound like guys who are ready to go?
“You can draw up Xs and Os all you want, but we simply have to be better,” said Colin Fraser, still washing the taste of Tuesday’s 7-1 defeat out of his mouth. “It’s not about Xs and Os sometimes, it’s about being prepared mentally and coming to the rink ready to play, and it was 4-0 before we knew it last game.”
The Carolina Hurricanes needed only seven minutes and change to lay the groundwork for the drubbing Tuesday, taking full advantage of a Edmonton team that didn’t seem to appreciate the urgency of sitting 15th in the West.
“We have to take some solace in the fact we’re a pretty good hockey team when we want to be,” said Taylor Hall. “But Tuesday, especially in the first five minutes, we weren’t.
“I’m not sure if we’re not into it mentally, or something like that, but we’re certainly trying out there.”
If they are, then it’s misplaced energy because in just 13 games they’re already minus 11 goals in the first period, having been outscored 21-10. Basically they’ve been playing catch-up all year.
“Maybe it’s the leadership group not preparing guys to play, people not being ready to to play, I don’t know,” said defenceman Ryan Whitney. “You can’t come back in this league from 1-0, let alone two and three. it’s tough.”
That’s why they’re 2-7-2 in their last 11.
A couple of valiant rallies to salvage OTL points against Calgary and Columbus masked the issue for a while, but when the comebacks start falling short it’s time to address why you keep falling behind in the first place.
“We like to think we’re always getting our team ready,” said head coach Tom Renney. “Sometimes the results don’t always recognize that, there’s no question, so we have to take some responsibility as a coaching staff - these things don’t go wrong all by themselves.”
The players certainly aren’t helping, though.
“We’re not really sharp enough right now, or disciplined enough to start games,” said Sam Gagner, blaming early penalties for putting Edmonton on its heels. “We have to start games on our toes, getting pucks deep, and forcing them to take penalties. Start the game on the power play, shift the momentum that way.”
Getting pucks deep instead of turning them over at the blueline, the basic tenet of modern day hockey, is a concept that seems lost on them.
It’s not about pounding Red Bull and listening to Rob Zombie on 11. It’s not about the coach quoting Knute Rockne in the centre of the dressing room.
Rather, says Renney, it’s about doing the simple things that all good teams do to establish momentum.
“You have to stick to the game plan, we have to make teams come 200 feet,” he said. “It’s execution. We believe we give our guys a reasonable game plan based on what we are, but you have to take that seriously, take ownership for its execution.
“You go back to Detroit, Vancouver and San Jose, all very, very good teams. Each time they played us all they did was get pucks behind us, nothing fancy, and they took the game over. We need to learn to do the same thing if we’re going to succeed at this level.”