EDMONTON – They mailed it in.
Or as their head coach put it, the Edmonton Oilers were “out-worked, out-hustled, out-skated, out-grinded and out-committed.”
“That,” added Todd McLellan after a 5-0, home-ice shellacking at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, “is the biggest disappointment for me.”
“You have to show up and at least attempt to out-work the other team.”
Over 18,000 loyal fans gave this team their New Year’s Eve, bearing minus-22 temperatures and spending whatever ridiculous sum their ticket cost to see a desperate Oilers team that simply has to win games to save its season.
And the Oilers players rewarded them by casually plodding through another loss. Of all the nights, the temperature and occasion made this effort particularly criminal.
“At this point of the season you figure, which team should be the more desperate,” said Milan Lucic. “And they played with a lot more desperation than we did.”
The Oilers hardly competed. Their execution was minor league. Their penalty kill went 33.3 per cent. Only the gaffes, with young Matt Benning committing more than his share, were major league.
It was the kind of game your kid gives you at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning after a birthday party the night before. The type of effort you put in when the wife drags you to the mall on an NFL Sunday.
Pathetic? We’re not sure that’s the precise word to describe what the Edmonton Oilers brought to the table Sunday night, but why work hard looking for something better?
That kind of dedication has left town this winter in Edmonton, where the local NHL side has played this poorly far too often to be considered a contender anymore.
“That confidence, that swagger, we haven’t had it since we came back from the break,” began Connor McDavid, a young captain who is not yet ready to dress his team’s effort down in front of the cameras. “Well, we were alright in Winnipeg [on Dec. 27] and just had a few mental mistakes against Chicago. Tonight was no good. We’ll regroup. There is no need to panic. We’ve been in worse situations this year.”
Losers of three straight, any thought of playing .667 hockey the rest of the way and making the playoffs is pure folly. A promising run through Christmas has been all but wasted with a three-game losing streak heading into the New Year.
“Tonight we’re really disappointed with the effort and commitment level,” said McLellan, who deep down must know he isn’t riding the same horse he was last season. “We can’t afford to have these types of games and just write them off, but I think the character is there. They’ve shown they were able to claw their way back into this. Tonight is a very disappointing game but I’m not going to take a big brush and swipe the month and a half of hockey we played.”
Edmonton has not won a New Year’s Eve game since 1985 (0-12-4). They were never remotely in contention Sunday.
Winnipeg made it 1-0 when the Jets’ fourth line passed it around the Oilers zone as if they were the ’72 Russians, the orange clad group of Oilers playing the roles of the spectators at the Luzhniki Ice Palace.
On Winnipeg’s second goal, Benning gave a puck away in the neutral zone, but was fortunate to end up with the biscuit on his stick again in his zone, which he smartly skated towards the corner. Benning, however, was checked, and a loose puck ended up on Blake Wheeler’s stick for another goal.
After a brief spasm of competitiveness in the second period, the Oilers drew a penalty. That meant Winnipeg had a 42.6 per cent chance of scoring, as the Oilers have a pathetic success rate of 57.4 per cent in killing penalties at home.
After spending an entire practice on the penalty kill the day prior, Edmonton surrendered a goal promptly on the Jets’ first try of the night, a delightful deflection by Kyle Connor, left all alone to get his stick on a long wrist shot that bounced past a chanceless Cam Talbot.
The Jets would go two-for-three with the man advantage Sunday. Connor Hellebuyck notched the shutout on 35 saves, less than three of them memorable.
“I think we just had a chip on our shoulder last year where no matter what happened, nothing was going to phase us. Nothing was going to bring us down,” Lucic said. “It’s been a little bit different this year where we have been a lot more fragile. A goal like the first one tonight just completely brings us down and we weren’t able to fight back and create any momentum against it.
“It seems this year it is breakdown after breakdown.”