Last night was not a good one for the Edmonton Oilers and their fans. After suffering what was an exciting but troubling 9-5 drubbing at the hands of the Calgary Flames, this group of players knows exactly what has to happen. In other words, whatever the coaching staff wants them to do, they will buy in and implement the system Jay Woodcroft and company wants them to execute.
In the days leading up to the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta, all we heard about was how this Oilers team was so different from the one the Flames had little trouble beating 3-1 roughly three weeks ago. This was supposed to be a “measuring stick” game of sorts and Edmonton proceeded to cough up a mere nine goals at even strength.
Instead of delivering a “message” to their provincial rival, this team gave their head coach the ammunition needed to have their attention from here on out. Not to suggest some of the players were reading their so-called press-clippings and starting to believe they were better than they actually are but just in case they were, that shouldn’t be a problem moving forward.
When it comes to the Oilers under the Woodcroft regime, the numbers speak for themselves. Prior to yesterday’s collapse, their even strength numbers have done a complete 180 over the first 21 games since Dave Tippett’s departure. Those numbers came against some really good teams but also a good chunk of of so-so to poor ones. Still impressive but nonetheless, part of the equation.
Now, one butt-kicking at the hands of the Flames doesn’t dismiss all the good that has happened over the past six weeks but it was an eye-opener. After more than holding their own in recent games against the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning (x2), the tilt against Calgary was something else. A division rival, an extensive history and a potential playoff date looming, makes it a different animal.
Like it or not, Darryl Sutter’s side is the cream of the crop in the Pacific…if not the entire Western Conference. They are a deep team, loaded with a bunch of talented players who play a ridiculously fast pace and punish opponents on a nightly basis. All of those things cause the Oilers problems. The Flames are well aware of it and were pushing the envelope to make a point.
Whatever the reason, the players decided to abandon what had been a nice run of a defensively disciplined style of play and it cost them big time. Mikko Koskinen allowed five goals on twelve shots and frankly, was nowhere near as bad as those numbers suggest. Obviously, you want a goalie to make a save somewhere along the way but the chances he was facing were nearly all unstoppable.
Be it poor coverage, reads, decisions or all of the above, the Oilers were a complete and utter train-wreck in their own end of the rink. The forwards weren’t very good and the defensemen were downright awful. Koskinen nor Mike Smith could stop the bleeding but expecting either one of them to suddenly morph into a goaltender that could is as unrealistic as it gets.
Hence, why this trashing may be exactly what the doctor ordered. The roster Ken Holland put together has its shortcomings (hello defense and goaltending) and because of it, this team isn’t good enough to veer off the game plan against quality opponents. The players know it and so does the head coach:
“Clearly not good enough…we went away from script, went away from what our game plan was and we paid the price for it. Nine even strength goals…not good enough”
Those were the first words that came from Woodcroft’s mouth during his postgame comments and it paints a fairly honest picture. While fans may get excited about the Oilers pumping the likes of Detroit, Buffalo and New Jersey, without sticking to the system Woodcroft and Dave Manson have been preaching since their arrival, this team will crushed come playoff time.
The core of this team wants to win and because that is the case, they will not dismiss yesterday as nothing more than an off-night. To a degree that is exactly what it was but they know all-to-well it isn’t quite that simple. During the current campaign, the Edmonton Oilers have had multiple first-hand viewings of what works and what doesn’t. The decision should be an easy one to make.