January 25, 2012
Pre-break play positive for Oilers
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - When you are beaten up and beaten down and sit 29 teams deep in the standings — basically the Chilean miners of the NHL for a third dark year in a row — optimism is fleeting.
Let’s face it, aside from that 8-2-2 start of theirs, so long ago and far away it barely seems real anymore, the Edmonton Oilers season looks like it went through a thousand pregame warmups without a helmet.
No wonder, then, that taking three of four points from San Jose and Vancouver has done for the Oilers’ morale what a puff of inhaler does for a gasping asthmatic.
Those three points won’t save the season, but they do have them whispering about the possibility of better days ahead.
“If we’re going to turn it around, we have to do it at some point,” said Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 77 of 80 shots in a shootout win over San Jose and a shootout loss in Vancouver. “We certainly didn’t want to go into the break with a frustrated feeling. We have to rid ourselves of that.
“So, to put together a couple of games and almost get two wins against two of the better teams in the league is certainly a good way to go do it.”
A pair of decent outings is far too small a sample to suggest the Mr. Octobers are back, but for a team looking for something, anything, positive to grasp onto, this will do.
“That Calgary game (6-2 loss in which they all but quit) was kind of a breaking point,” said winger Taylor Hall “We didn’t want to play like that anymore and these last two games have been pretty good.
“It’s really kind of nice to go into the break feeling good about yourself, good about your own game.”
It’s too late to make things right as far as the playoffs are concerned, but there are plenty of smaller goals within reach.
Saving your coach’s job. Not having people laugh at you. Not being caught by Columbus.
Things like that.
“We had a player meeting and we talked about really finishing the season hard,” said Shawn Horcoff. “The last 30 games have put us in a position we’re not comfortable being in. We can’t change what happened over the course of the last 25 or 30 games, all we can control is what is going to happen for the next 30.”
They expect to be better after the All-Star break, not just because they can’t get worse, but because the next wave of reinforcements — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tom Gilbert and Cam Barker — will all be back by early February.
“We haven’t been healthy all year, but at least now we’re getting some semblance of what our full lineup can look like,” said Horcoff, adding Ryan Whitney alone made a difference against the Canucks.
“His ability to move the puck is invaluable. He creates instant offence when he can make the play coming out of your zone.
“You add Nuge to the lineup and two more puck movers in Barks and Gibs and its really going to help.”
None of it matters, though if they’re only trying as hard as they did in that 6-2 loss to the Flames. Play like they did against the Canucks, on the other hand, and they might be OK. If they take anything from the last two games, it should be that.
“Our compete level and our passion is going to have to be on every night,” said Hall, who is one guy they never have to worry about. “It’s not that hard. If you’re hurt or not feeling good you can always bring passion to the game, that’s just something that has to be mandatory with our team and the last two games are a sign of that.”
Tom Renney hopes so.
“We’re trying to right ourselves,” he said, adding he’s seeing a few good signs. “Maybe we’re getting a little closer to being a good hockey club again.”