Oilers show signs of breaking

The Oilers show their emotion after being shut out by the Ducks after NHL action between the...

The Oilers show their emotion after being shut out by the Ducks after NHL action between the Edmonton Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks at Rexall Place on February 13, 2011. (LAURA PEDERSEN/QMI AGENCY)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

EDMONTON - A team can only get beaten down so many times, can only drift so far away from even pretending to be relevant, before its spirit takes a knee.

After watching Edmonton go through the motions last weekend against Ottawa and Anaheim, it looks like the magic number is pretty close to 32.

Thirty-two losses into a 56-game schedule, the Oilers looked like a beaten group.

The team that managed 30 shots over two full games was the exact same team we saw last season — vacant stares and a body language that spoke of hopelessness and gloom.

For the first time this season, they broke the seal on the “We’ll be better next year” emergency exit and slid down the chute to the tarmac.

“When you lose games because you’re playing hard, that’s one thing,” said Andrew Cogliano. “But when you have a game where there’s no compete level, no battle level, no emotion, that’s the worst thing you can possibly have.”

Exactly. When the season began, this team had a green light to lose. Permission to finish last. Kids, process, future, yadda, yadda, go ahead, lose all you want.

Just don’t lose like this. Pulling the chute. Mailing it in. Quitting. That’s where the free pass ends.

“Lack of effort and intensity is something that is never going to be excusable,” said Shawn Horcoff. “I think we’ve made those comments quite clear. We’ll live with mistakes, but the one thing we’re not going to live with here is poor efforts.”

Is the spirit broken in that dressing room?

Nobody’s going to say so — nobody who wants to be here past Tuesday, anyhow — but it’s hard to imagine that it’s not.

As much as you want to accentuate the positives and look to the future, it’s pretty tough to keep a smile when you’ve lost 21 of the last 25 and the next 26 are essentially meaningless from a standings and playoffs (remember them?) perspective.

“I suppose so,” said Tom Renney. “But people also know how to crawl out of that and do something about it. There’s a great saying: when you’re in a hole, quit digging.”

The question now is whether, in this cycle of defeat and frustration, the rookies are learning how to be losers. Is the culture of failure that’s grown synonymous with the Oilers logo beginning to stain the next generation?

“It certainly could be,” said Renney. “Like I said before, we’re not here to tweak this culture, we’re here to change it.

“It’s like putting a cast on a broken arm. You can’t do what you want to do, it’s not a lot of fun, you don’t have a lot of latitude, but you have to fix the break, and our team has been broken. This year we’re working on that.

“We’ve invested in some very good young players here and the responsibility for their growth doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of the coaches.”

It’s up to Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner and Tom Gilbert to demonstrate the little extra things it takes to win. We’re not seeing enough of that.

Steve Tambellini was as sick about the last 48 hours as anyone and addressed the troops before Monday’s practice.

“I think it was important for Steve to come in and deliver a message,” said Renney. “There’s a certain wallop behind the GM.”

The mood has definitely changed in there. The time for well-received losses is over. You can’t lose every game you play and call it progress. You can’t spend 30 or 40 minutes a game searching for a pulse. And you can’t expect fans to pay through the nose to watch it.

“We’ve done the whole ‘Nice guy, friendly thing,’ ” said Cogliano. “Easing through things is over now. I think there needs to be some accountability from the players.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI


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