On Thursday night, the Edmonton Oilers lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They fought back from two separate two-goal deficits only to lose 6-4 in what can only be called a spectacular flame-out.
The blame can be placed in a lot of different places, but one person who doesn’t actually deserve the criticism is Kris Russell. Sure, he scored an own goal in spectacular fashion but it wasn’t his fault, not really. Kris Russell does a lot of things wrong a lot of the time, and while he’s very good at blocking shots he wouldn’t have to block so many if he was better at clearing the zone. Thursday’s own goal was ultimately an attempt to clear the puck but it looks like Russell got turned around in the chaos of the puck battle and panicked.
Russell will never live this goal down, but the chain of events that lead to it have nothing to do with Russell himself.
The blame for this goal lies firmly at the feet of the person who put the Oilers roster together and failed to acknowledge the deficiencies of the lineup as it stood on, say, August 1. There is no excuse for an NHL general manager to have looked at a team with fewer than six top-6 forwards and a surplus of 4/5/6 defencemen and say “yeah, we’re good.”
For some fans and bloggers (though strangely not Edmonton’s MSM), the roster heading into camp was incomplete, full of holes, lacking. But instead, at this point of the season, after 26 games, the Edmonton Oilers are sitting at 10-14-2 and are in severe danger of missing the playoffs for the 11th of the last 12 seasons. Last year’s overperformance can be attributed to a lack of injury trouble and pretty much everything going right at all times.
This season’s struggle isn’t just one thing – it’s the historically poor penalty kill, minor league goaltending, a lack of secondary scoring that no one could possibly have seen coming, and what appears to be a team chemistry issue. This of course isn’t proven in any way, but the focus on how much the team came together during training camp and all the talk about how close the dressing room is seems oddly timed considering what’s happened this season.
To put it bluntly, the Oilers are in
a bit of a tailspin, and every game is now more important than anyone could have imagined. Divisional matchups are of paramount importance, and non-conference games are now must-wins. For the Oilers to have a sniff at the playoffs, they need to play at roughly a 105-point pace over the next 56 games. For the math-impaired, they need to win 35/56 (or just over 62%) of the remaining games. Given that they’ve only won 38% of their games so far, that seems like a pretty tall order.
Instead of being excited about how the season is progressing, fans have found themselves looking into top draft prospects (again), and looking at the successes of former Oilers on new teams. Management as found a way to pass the buck for any kind of accountability with respect to the team. The coach is bound by the roster he’s been given, and can’t put talent he doesn’t have available on the ice. There’s discussion of trades as sellers, not as buyers.
Nothing is going right.
The thing that stings the most is that all of these problems could have been prevented with some better decision making. Thursday’s own goal, while scored by Kris Russell, should be awarded to Peter Chiarelli.
What does it even matter? Whoever the Oilers put on the ice will play 60 minutes of hockey and they’ll either do it well or not. It’s futile to predict the outcome, as there’s no consistency in, well, anything. The lines are a mess, goaltending has been left to Laurent Brossoit and Nick Ellis, and the special teams are an absolute disaster.
In his press conference earlier this week, Peter Chiarelli did a lot to not answer any questions about anything, other than to say that he’s disappointed in the team’s performance. The tone of his message was reminiscent of another defeated commander upon discovering the greatest loss of his life:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (V.v.24-28)
At the end of the day, however, it’s just a hockey team and just (another) lost season.
All that’s left of this Oilers season is sound and fury, yet it signifies nothing.