EDMONTON — It’s broken in Edmonton. Smashed into a million pieces.
On Thursday night, the Oilers outplayed Florida for the entire opening period, but couldn’t buy a goal despite outshooting the Panthers 17-7. A couple of hours later, that “success” was but a distant memory, buried in a landslide of Florida goals.
Losers by a 6-0 score, the Oilers have now lost seven straight games and 13 of their past 15. This was yet another embarrassment, and truth be told, the group as it exists has not found a solution in weeks, putting up the worst record in the National Hockey League standings for a month and a half now.
This is not the worst team in the NHL. But it’s been playing like it for too long now.
So something has to change. Because as it exists today, this collection of players and coaches can not effect change by themselves.
They no longer have an answer.
Fire head coach Dave Tippett? It wouldn’t surprise us one bit if, for the first time in his career as a general manager, Ken Holland pulled the trigger on Friday.
The season is swirling down the drain, and the team isn’t getting any better. He can’t find a goalie, let alone one who can score on a nightly basis.
It’s a sad indictment of an organization that has had only one head coach (Todd McLellan) make it through three consecutive seasons since Craig MacTavish, who left in 2009. And the blame lays at the feet of Holland far more than Tippett, having constructed a hockey team without goaltending.
But in professional sports, when the collection of players plays this bad for this long… well, you know how it usually ends.
“We have to keep pounding away. It’s the only way it’s going to work,” a haggard-looking Tippett said post-game. “You have to work your way out of it.”
This was the classic case of a team that played well enough to be rewarded … but was not, mostly due to a brilliant 40-save performance by Sergei Bobrovsky. Then they caved in, unable to turn momentum back once it was lost.
“We had a good start and then they get the lead and then we’re chasing it,” said Duncan Keith, whose team has allowed the first goal an astonishing 23 of its last 27 games. “I think we have to find a way to get that first goal, to get a better feeling in the room. The way things are going right now, we get down, it's frustrating.”
Darnell Nurse, who wears an ‘A’, has been tasked with helping lead this team out of the abyss. Like everyone else around this organization -- top to bottom -- he has failed.
Do you run ever out of ideas, we asked him?
“This is a true test of leadership,” began Nurse. “It’s easy to be a leader when you’re 9-1, or 16-5. It’s easy to lead a team. Go out and be the rah rah guy.
“This right here, it’s a test for all the leaders on our team. Getting out of this is what’s going to make our team better. There’s no excuse. No ‘fountain of tricks.’ You’ve got to show up every day with your hard hat on -- that’s the only way to get out of this. There are no tricks. To be a leader, you have to show up every day.
“That’s our job. It’s what we have to do to dig our way out of this. This is when you really have to lead.”
Who knows whose job is whose around here, anymore?
The two superstars, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, are making more news in the media room than on the ice these days, combining for a paltry goal and assist in the past four games. The power play, once a record-setting group, has one goal on its last 11 attempts. And then there’s the penalty kill, a unit that has imploded, giving up another three goals Thursday.
“Penalty killing is like scoring,” surmised Tippett. “When you score you feel like you can keep scoring. When you’re killing a penalty you feel like you’re going to go out there and get the job done. Right now we can’t get the bleeding stopped. You get running around, out of structure a little bit. It’s like the rest of our game.”
Keith must be shaking his head at the fragility of this group, having come from a team that had guts, fortitude, and the winning formula.
“We’ve got a lot of good players in there, a lot of guys with character, a lot of guys who care,” he said. “Everybody wants to do their part. It’s going to take everybody, and it’s going to have to be a patient, solid defensive game where we try to win that game 1-0. Not allowing anything against.”
That would take excellent goaltending, of course…