Slow starts killing Oilers

Flames' Jarome Iginla looks for a loose puck during an NHL game against the Oilers in Edmonton....

Flames' Jarome Iginla looks for a loose puck during an NHL game against the Oilers in Edmonton. Jan. 1, 2010. (JORDAN VERLAGE/QMI AGENCY)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

Well, that pretty much puts them over the top in terms of another drop to the bottom.

Not that it’s a long drop.

If all you care about this year is that the Edmonton Oilers once again pick first or second in the NHL entry draft, another injury to a top player is just what the, er, doctor ordered.

But in terms of developing the young players, keeping the compete level up and having fans go home entertained and excited for the future most nights, this is going to hurt.

Jordan Eberle is out with a left ankle injury.

The extent and the length of Eberle’s departure are unknown. The ankle isn’t broken. But he left the rink last night wearing a plastic walking boot cast.

How come the players who seem to be getting injured all the time for the Edmonton Oilers are the good ones?

First Ales Hemsky. Then Shawn Horcoff. Then Ryan Whitney. Now Jordan Eberle.

But in terms of developing the young players, keeping the compete level up and having fans go home entertained and excited for the future most nights, this is going to hurt even if it’s only a matter of a few weeks.

The Oilers have now lost six in a row and have only one win to show for their last nine. And while they appeared to make a statement by overcoming a 3-0 deficit in taking the Colorado Avalanche to a shootout in the last game of 2010, the first one in 2011 made an entirely different declaration.

Getting outshot 19-3 in the first period by the Calgary Flames said that they didn’t show up at Rexall Place to compete.

“It’s not just about shots,” said Sam Gagner.

“We want to play in their end, not in our end. What happened tonight said that we were not really ready to play physical.”

It was Taylor Hall who grabbed the game by the throat to bring the Oilers back against Colorado. Saturday it was Ryan Jones.

But this time they didn’t get back.

“It wasn’t a huge hole we dug ourselves,” said Hall.

“But when you start with bad first periods, it’s always hard to fight back.

“We’re trying out there. We’re trying to do the right things.”

Not at the right time, they’re not.

Take a look at the statistics in this league when it comes to first goals and first-period leads.

“We just couldn’t conjure up the proper connection to the game. Emotionally and physically,” said coach Tom Renney.

“I thought we got pushed out of the game early and we didn’t push our way in at all.

“We didn’t sustain much if any kind of pressure.

“I thought we needed a better battle level than we demonstrated in our own end. We seemed to be disconnected tonight. When you are finishing checks and stopping any kind of play, then and there it seems to live on.”

Battle level is both mental and physical toughness.

“We’ve seen it at times this year but we haven’t seen it on a regular basis. at all.

“It begs the question if it is something that is natural.

“It it’s not, we’re going to have to deal with that. We have to make sure that we hold people’s feet to the fire and play that way as best they can and then we’ll evaluate them. I don’t know how much you can evaluate from tonight.”

The Oilers, who remain with nine wins in 19 home games, were booed as they left the ice Saturday. Despite their record, that hasn’t happened often this year.

Renney wonders if the first periods are symptomatic of something relating to home ice.

“It makes you wonder if there is something about playing at home. If there is a certain nervous energy or a lack of being able to go out and execute a plan.

“I’m certainly not making excuses. We have to be much better to start games. Then you are not always having to come from behind. The last couple of games we’ve had to do that.”

The last thing Renney wants to have happen here is for this team to quit.

But when they start games playing quitter-type hockey, he’s got a problem.

One-goal losses shouldn’t be considered moral victories when the team doesn’t show up for the game.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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