It's official, folks, this is the Worst team in the long and storied history of the Edmonton Oilers. Now in their 30th* NHL season, the club is firmly ensconced in 30th place, now 7 points in arrears of the worst of the rest and watching the cloud of dust gradually disappear in the distance. 13 losses in a row. 0 for January. Dead fucking last in the NHL.
Given the motivation of sharing the misery with their provincial rivals, themselves on a 9-game losing streak, the Oilers rolled over in the Saddledome to the tune of 6-1, giving the Flames the first-ever clean sweep in the 29-season history of the Battle of Alberta. (Technically we went 0-5-1, but the Flames went 6-0-0 and deserve credit for running the table under Bettman rules.) In the wind-up game of the annual puck celebration known as Hockey Day in Canada, the Oilers delivered a disgraceful display on national television that showed hockey fans from coast to coast how pathetic this once-proud franchise has become.
The Oilers showed almost no spark in this one, credited with just 10 hits the entire night. The only fight on display came in the form of a couple actual fights: Shawn Horcoff of all people dropped the gloves early with Mark Giordano and Sheldon Souray had a late tilt with Jarome Iginla. To add injury to insult, Souray reportedly fractured his wrist, possibly ending his season and almost certainly removing himself from the trading block in which he was the leading candidate to head out of town and break the gridlock on the payroll. It's hard to visualize what more can possibly go wrong with this godforsaken crew.
In one sense it was a team effort, as 17 of 18 skaters were in red figures, 8 guys at -2 and 9 at -1. Only Dustin Penner emerged with an Even +/- rating.
Once again, the Oilers' veterans put in a dismal showing. Let's make an example of one prominent veteran, team captain Ethan Moreau. After the jump we will look at Moreau's body of work from tonight's game.
According to the event summary, Moreau played 14:50 in total, 1 shot, 1 hit, 1 block, 1 giveaway, -2. The one shot was officially a 58-foot wrister and not surprisingly, did not go in. I barely need mention Moreau ended the night 0-0-0; thecaptain hasn't scored a goal in 29 games, has just 1 assist in the last 24.
When it came to match-ups, Moreau wasn't hard matched against Iginla or anything, this was a road game and Pat Quinn has proven to be less than adept at getting match-ups he prefers. Moreau played the most against Adam Pardy, 7.9 minutes, and Mark Giordano, 7.3. Good defencemen, but not exactly the Big Three. The three forwards against whom he played the most were Eric Nystrom (5.8 minutes), the raw rookie Mikael Backlund (5.4), and Dustin Boyd (5.1). Let's be charitable and call them third liners.
Nor was he getting tough own-zone faceoff assignments. In fact, Moreau along with his linemates Horcoff and Pisani took 8 even-strength faceoffs in Calgary's zone, just 3 in their own. This Defensive Minus Offensive differential of -5 was by far the most favourable on the club; no other forward had better than a -1 differential. First line wingers Dustin Penner and Robert Nilsson, meanwhile, were given 1 (one) offensive zone faceoff the entire game.
Despite the soft match-ups and favourable zone starts, Ethan Moreau recorded the worst EV Corsi rating on the entire club. When thecaptain was on the ice, the Flames attempted 20 shots at Edmonton's net, the Oilers just 8 towards Calgary's, for a net rating of -12. (Event summary courtesy NHL.com; match-ups, faceoff zone data, and Corsi stats all courtesy of timeonice.com)
Most egregiously, Moreau was fingered for yet another unnecessary stick foul behind the other team's goal line. "Luckily" this penalty was rescinded as Calgary scored on the delay; in fact Moreau didn't even get a minus on that play, as he changed on the way back up the ice before Calgary converted the 6-on-5. So that bonehead play is not anywhere in his personal statistical record. In reality the goal that resulted put Calgary ahead to stay less than a minute after Sam Gagner had scored Edmonton's lone goal to knot the count at 1-1 and absolutely killed any momentum the Oilers might have been generating.
It wasn't just Moreau, although he was arguably the worst culprit. Here are tonight's EV Corsi "leaders", starting at the bottom: Moreau -12, Strudwick -11, Pisani -9, Souray -7, Horcoff -7. Only Lubo Visnovsky (+2) avoided a clean sweep of vets for the bottom of this stat. Of course, Visnovsky had the most favourable ZoneStarts of any Oiler (-7) but at least he didn't just go backwards with them.
In a season chock-a-block with disappointments, the performance of Oilers veteran corps must be near the top (bottom?) of the list. Their on-ice results have been very poor, effective leadership missing in action, team togetherness and morale nonexistent on their watch. Far too many nights the old pros expected to deliver the emotional spark seem to be mailing it in. The culture of the team is in disarray to say the least, and any housecleaning in the room should begin with some of the club's longest-serving players.
Of course, an argument could be made that the first housecleaning should take place in a different room, namely the executive offices of those who put this sorry crew together. It's hard to imagine, yet it's true, that a team as irredeemably shitty as this one is hard up against the NHL salary cap. The team's management has delivered an epic fail on any number of fronts. They have failed this once-storied franchise, this city, their fans, and not least their owner. Only the latter can do anything more than throw up his hands in despair.
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Next up: Carolina at Edmonton, Monday, February 1, 19:30 MST. The former cellar-dwelling Hurricanes have won 4 in a row and 9 games in January, and have left little doubt that they are NOT the worst club in the league.