PHOENIX — A team that doesn’t score is like a ship that doesn’t float.
And if you’re looking for some idea of how well Tom Renney’s crew is filling the nets these days, just slip into some scuba gear and dive on down to the bottom of the Western Conference standings, where you’ll find the HMCS Copper and Blue.
What can only loosely be described as an offence has been held to two or fewer goals in a staggering 17 of Edmonton’s last 22 games.
No surprise, then, that they lost 15 of those 17 on the way down.
“We still get some good quality chances,” said captain Shawn Horcoff. “It’s not like last year when there was no hope. We’ve been getting shots and chances, we just need to get a few more ugly ones, get to the net a little more, get a little grittier. It’s definitely something we’re aware of — we need to score more goals.”
Given that every team in the NHL averages at least two goals per game (3.43 for the league leading Flyers and 2.04 for the hopeless Devils), it doesn’t take a degree in math to understand that scoring two or less every night is a recipe for failure.
As much as coaches love to stress all things defence, if you can’t score, you can’t win. But despite their ham-handed totals, the Oilers don’t plan on unleashing the hounds in search of more goals.
“When a team is not scoring a lot of goals, they’re not saying, ‘We need to score more goals.’ It’s more about the way that we can score them — getting pressure in their end and ultimately playing well defensively,” said rookie Taylor Hall. “You never know how many goals you’re going to get in a game, but you can control the ones that you prevent. We feel we’ve been playing pretty well.”
Well enough that 10 of their last 14 losses were by one goal (or two, with an empty netter). Chasing that little bit of extra offence can be dangerous, though, which is why the Oilers, frustrating as it is to watch sometimes, are sticking to the plan.
“I think we have other parts of our game that need to be fixed up first before we worry about offence,” said Andrew Cogliano, echoing the party line in the dressing room. “We really feel that offence can come from playing good defence.
“(Run and gun) doesn’t work in this league, teams are too good. We’ve learned from games like Phoenix and other ones where we’ve lost 6-1 or 7-1. We need to play our game plan and stick to what the coaches are telling us because it works — we’ll either win or be in every game.”
With all the skill at their disposal, Hall, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi, Dustin Penner, Jordan Eberle and occasionally Ales Hemsky, the ability to finish wasn’t supposed to be a problem this year. And Horcoff says it still isn’t — it’s everything else that’s the problem.
“We’d like to score more but I think it’s tied to everything,” said Shawn Horcoff. “I don’t think there’s anywhere where we’re saying, OK, we’re good here, let’s move on to something else. There’s not really one area where you can take your foot off the gas. We’re doing everything we can to get better in all situations.”
Nowhere are they working harder than their sickly man-advantage numbers. If they can breathe life back into the NHL’s worst power play (one goal in its last 53 chances over 14-plus games), it might be the offensive push they need.
“We need to find a way to get some production out of the power play,” said Sam Gagner. “If we don’t do that it’s going to be hard for us to get wins. We’re in a lot of one-goal games without scoring on the power play, when that gets going it will make the difference. That’s going to be our focus. Everyone on the power play has to be intense and hungry to score goals.”