CHICAGO - The Original Six Tour will now be known as the Original Six Feet Under Tour after the Edmonton Oilers got buried in three of four games and gave up 16 goals in a hard-luck swing through Montreal, Boston, Detroit and Chicago.
Edmonton lost 6-3 Sunday night against the Blackhawks to go 2-4 on a six game-trip trip that began with a split in LA and Phoenix, a lucky win in Montreal, three straight losses in Boston, Detroit and Chicago, each defeat worse than the one before it.
“Awful,” seethed head coach Tom Renney, who had finally seen enough. “No battle level, no forecheck, ... we understand the depth of the people we’re playing and the experience they’ve had with winning but there’s no excuses — we needed to man up (Sunday night) and we didn’t do it.”
After an 8-2-2 October, the Oilers have slipped to 9-6-2, one point above the playoff cutline. Losing is one thing, losing like this — abandoning the game plan and letting the other guys out-hustle you, is another.
“I don’t think they realize yet what it takes to win on a nightly basis,” said Renney, who’s hoping his team took a long look across the ice. “We have a couple of rungs to go (to be at Chicago’s level) and it starts in your own head. The minute you man up and buy in and understand the pain, how much it hurts to be a winner, we have a shot. Right now, not good enough.”
Basically, what this trip taught them is that while they’re better than last year, they’re not nearly as good as they thought they were a week ago.
“To be honest, it’s probably a bit of a wake-up call for everybody in here,” said captain Shawn Horcoff. “We got off to a good start and we’re happy with that, but the last three games erased most of that.”
Sunday night didn’t start well for the Oilers. In fact, it started very, very badly. Chicago scored on two of its first three shots and had a 2-0 lead before the goosebumps from the always-rousing national anthem had time to flatten out. By period’s end they were up 3-1 and by 22 seconds into the second it was 4-1.
A couple of comeback attempts pulled them close, but the same mistakes that put them in a hole in the first place put them back there again.
“Tough trip, long trip,” said Horcoff. “Disappointing the way we finished it. Frustrating going home; felt like we could have done a lot better.”
If they were short on energy at the end of a 12-day, six-game haul, they realize now that they should have turned in a conservative, economical, boring road game instead of getting into a 6-3 shootout with a champion.
“Everything they got we gave them with turnovers,” said Theo Peckham, who was plus one in the debacle. “They’re a puck possession team and the way you beat that is don’t give them the puck. The D have to make better passes to the forwards and the forwards have to get the puck in deep.”
The Oilers return home for two days before heading out on another (gulp) road trip.
“We have to learn from this,” said Horcoff. “I don’t think we came out with the kind of intensity you need to win games. We’ve kind of gotten away from that a little bit the last few here. At the start of the year we were really, really hard on teams at the start of games. We made a statement that it was going to be a long, hard game.”
The lessons are coming, Renney is quite clear about that. He said the line between gentle instruction and turning up the heat is very close.
“We may have hit that line,” he said. “In fits and starts we identified with (areas that needed improvement) and did what we had to do, but (Sunday night) wasn’t even close.”