EDMONTON - He’s benched the fourth line, the rookies, some veterans and he’s called the team out publicly, after lighting into them privately.
And we’re not even into December.
Tom Renney is working his way through the Grab Their Attention checklist and still hasn’t managed to grab the Oilers attention, or at least keep it for more than one game a week.
Like vanquished coaches Craig MacTavish and Pat Quinn before him, Renney is running out of ways to inject some passion and focus into a group that’s lost by four or more goals five times (5-0, 7-1, 8-2, 6-2 and 5-0) in the last eight starts and has been out-shot to the tune of 19-4, 16-4, 11-5, 20-4 in the last four opening periods.
You have to go back six games to even find a night when Edmonton even had more than five shots in a first period.
So the coach scans his checklist, choosing to run battle drills Wednesday instead of giving them the day off they expected.
“Nobody’s happy with that type of a performance and how we mismanaged our game,” Renney said of the 5-0 loss Tuesday in Phoenix. “At the end of the day there are some tools that you have to look at as a coach that can help you put the proper premium on how they have to play.
“I think I’ve shown a few examples of how that can work. And I’ve got more bullets in the chamber.”
He’s not bluffing and he doesn’t play favourites, not that there’s anybody left in the room who thinks otherwise after Renney benched the captain and the first pick overall in a span of two weeks.
“Tom can be hard on us, he has been in the past,” said Shawn Horcoff, adding what we see publicly is pretty tame compared with the stuff behind closed doors. “He holds guys accountable. It’s definitely a point he’s got across to everyone and he’ll continue to do that until we get it right.”
Renney carved them after the Phoenix loss, the first time he’s come out and questioned their commitment and pride. The only surprise is that it took this long.
“Tom’s been very patient with us, very positive,” said Colin Fraser. “And that’s what we want to have, a positive attitude in here. But when you give up six, seven, five goals as often as we have been lately it’s tough to stay positive. Guy’s don’t want to accept that.”
They seem to be accepting of defeat sometimes, which is most concerning. You honestly have to wonder about a team that plays the way Edmonton did on Tuesday. If they play that way in front of their dads, who exactly are they saving the inspired efforts for?
“With his coaching and the game plan we have there’s no excuses for the efforts we put out some nights,” said Andrew Cogliano. “We have skill in here, we have guys who want to play hard, but some nights the compete level just isn’t there.”
So Renney, like Quinn and MacTavish, will continue to dig. But there are delicate balances between accepting growing pains and accepting losing, between laying down the law and losing the room.
“If I’m in there so often doing those things then it become redundant and they’ll turn me off,” said Renney. “So you have to be creative and inventive as a coach in terms of how you get those messages across and by what mechanism. That’s the art of coaching.
“We’re still nurturing, we’re still supportive, we’re still demanding. And when we need to, we draw a hard line. That’s what this year is going to be all about.
“I thought we played pretty good in Anaheim and I thought we played pretty good at home against Phoenix, as much as we let them come back and tie us.
“I thought we might have been able to kind of round the corner there but this appears to be a pretty big corner.”