Worryingly, the Oilers are getting awfully good at being awfully bad.
As a two-goal loss to a fellow cellar-dweller goes, that was almost - dare I say - painless. We got in, we got beat, we got out. Very efficient. That was losing for champions. That was the sort of loss a team contending for the Reverse Stanley Cup gets. There was no real drama for those sixty minutes. We allowed an early goal, put up a fight, got into a fight, but lost in good order. Even allowed an empty-net goal on an asinine early own-zone goaltender pull. A few members of the Mediocre Brigade acquitted themselves admirably, but the team itself was impotent.
May I be cynical? I may? Thank you. It seems to me that this team has the Fall for Hall down. Sit the Complainer Captain Ethan Moreau and start getting results? Sit the heart of the team Fernando Pisani instead! Play Jeff Deslauriers against Toronto, a team motivated to get results against the superior goaltender. Play Devan Dubnyk against Columbus, a team that may be diving for five as hard as us and that might need a little help slamming pucks in. A bunch of illogical line combinations, few of which were any good, with only the weird unit of Sam Gagner, Marc Pouliot, and Whatever Other Loser They Happen to Be With Right Now showing some improbable and unexpected chemistry.
Did we chuck Aaron Johnson and Chris Minard on the power play? You bet we did. Taylor Chorney on the penalty kill? Sure did. We pulled out all the stops and got the loss.
It gets harder and harder to review a team that doesn't appear to be putting in its full effort. I'm not just talking about Dustin Penner, who of course has been mailing it in so aggressively he wrote to the Edmonton Sun complaining about the price of postage. He scored tonight, of course, but it was more from sheer ability and athleticism than effort, in the same fashion that if Usain Bolt put on dress shoes and was wearing a jacket going out for a jog he could still beat me to the finish line. Tom Gilbert, for example, knows he's the Omega Man on Edmonton's blue line and playing with the same agonized despair you'd expect. Devan Dubnyk tried hard. Perhaps a bit too hard. He looks for all the world like a goaltender who just needs more reps except for the fact that the puck winds up behind him awfully frequently.
There's an old saw about the goaltender needing more work to stay sharp, and he'll allow the most goals when he faces five or six shots in a period. I wonder if it's true in Dubnyk's case. His first period, he was being bombarded and left for dead and was very nearly magnificent. The same story in the third period against Toronto, when he was completely abandoned against the guns of the Maple Leafs and was nigh-incorruptible. In the second and third, the Oilers started to turn up the pressure (i.e. apply any pressure) and all of a sudden Dubnyk was flailing and fighting and generally getting lit the hell up.
The other most credible effort came from the aforementioned Mr. Johnson, and unlike Dubnyk his effort was accompanied by effectiveness. Johnson is now on a two-game goal scoring streak, which may tie him for the season best among the Edmonton Oilers. And he is so much better, early on, than Steve Staios was for the last two seasons that it seems almost like gloating for us to get a third-round pick in the trade as well.
Here's the question. What would Aaron Johnson re-sign for? It's time we thought about this. Steve Tambellini may have channeled the spirit of his mentor for good instead of evil (for once) and pulled a fruit off the ragged bush that we now-mockingly call the Hejda Tree. How is that not the sort of player we'd want back? At the very least, surely he's better than Jason Strudwick, never mind Taylor Chorney or Theo Peckham. If Johnson would come back for, say, two years at, say, $750,000 a year, that would be definitely worthwhile.
These are the kinds of things I try to think about in the midst of a season like this.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:
18th, 19th, and 20th Stars: Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, and Mike Comrie.
Okay, this is going to look weird. But I've been deliberating over this for the last half hour and I can't separate these three in my mind. They were dreadful. Yes, worse than Devan Dubnyk! Each of them were -3, and (unlike how Bruce insists Zack Stortini's game was every time he finishes below even) they earned it. They earned the hell out of it.
This was Whitney's first appearance on the Reverse Three Stars and one of relatively few for either Gilbert or Comrie. None of these guys are regulars in the reverse standings. Whitney played a shade over twenty-six minutes, first on the Oilers. Gilbert played a shade over twenty-two, which was second (Quinn was rolling those lines like they were barrels today). Mike Comrie's 15:39 was around the top of the pops for the forwards tonight. So to an extent, they suffered just by playing a lot against a superior team. But they got shot so full of holes I think their numbers had exit wounds.
Did any of this troika have so much as a redeeming millisecond? Gilbert took a dopey interference penalty to negate a power play, while Whitney and Comrie negated the Oilers man advantages by being useless. At least Dubnyk made a save or two. These guys were just hideous.
It was a classic reverse three stars performance. I almost admired it.