Sometimes it seems like the Edmonton Oilers should spot the other teams two or three goals before the opening faceoff.
That way, rather than wasting a period or two falling behind with their prevent offence, they can attack, which is when they’re the most dangerous, right from the start.
We’ve seen it enough times this season to know that when the Oilers are playing not to make a mistake, and register 12 or 15 tentative shots in 40 minutes, they don’t scare (or entertain) anyone.
The team that swarmed Atlanta in the third period Saturday does.
“Our top three lines have more skill than we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Shawn Horcoff. “So it’s nice to know that you have the type of team that can say, ‘We’re down, let’s go. We’re going 2-1-2 (forecheck), we’re being aggressive.’ ”
The Oilers were going absolutely nowhere for 41 minutes on Saturday, trailing 3-1 with just 11 shots early in the third. But once they went for it, it was scary to watch.
Goals, shots, pressure, a comeback, fun, excitement and a win.
So why don’t they play that way all game?
“You can’t,” said Horcoff, adding it wouldn’t work, not over 82 games, and certainly not in the playoffs, a place they hope to visit one day. “One thing the best teams know how to do is play that patient game, don’t play your way our of it.
“Chip pucks in deep, grind it out for a period, maybe two, until the game comes to you, and all of a sudden you have four lines going. That’s what the best teams do. They’re always in games because they’re patient and experienced.”
The temptation to think offence first is almost irresistible, especially when you have the horses to do it and a lot of those third-period outbursts seems to be working. But the Oilers are doing their best to resist.
Even though trying to score is easier and more fun than trying to prevent.
“It’s a challenge for us right now. We’re still learning what makes us successful as a team,” said Sam Gagner. “We have a lot of guys in here who are game-breakers, but a lot of times if you’re all over the place in the first period you can lose a game early. That’s not what we want to be.”
They’ve shown they can win when the other team wants to run. Montreal came in, offered up a track meet, and Edmonton romped to a 4-1 decision.
But when the opponent wants to lock it down, as any good coach will insist when he looks at Edmonton’s roster, you get the 4-0 shutout loss to Anaheim.
And when the opponent is a smart team that’s good at both ends of the ice, you get the 14 goals they’ve given up in three losses to Detroit.
“Guys who’ve gone deep in the playoffs know that at the end of the day, those are the games that you’re playing, tight games,” said Horcoff. “It comes down to limiting the other team’s quality chances, what can you do to wear them down.
“In a long playoff run, the legs aren’t going to be there and the holding isn’t going to be called as much any more, it’s kind of a grittier game.”
Better they model themselves after the Wings, than, say, Washington, a team that’s played track meet after track meet over the years, only to be pushed out of the playoffs when the games tightened up.
“There are teams that are just superior one way and they’re often talked about during the 82, and then not so much so beyond that,” said Oilers coach Tom Renney, who’s trying to find the right mix between, as Craig MacTavish used to say, whoa and go. “This is playing that delicate balance, finding that finished product.”