When we Oilers fans complain about the team these days, our hearts aren't totally in it. We're like survivors of the Somme bitching about Passchendaele. Oh, they're both massacres, but we have only a limited supply of rage. (Well, you do.)
Exhibit A: Justin Schultz. God but we hate Justin Schultz. That shorty? His apple-sweet giveaway to set up Jarome Iginla's goal? Go directly to Hell, do not pass Go, do not collect another NHL contract. But deep inside we know that, waking nightmare though the Badger unquestionably is, while Oscar Klefbom is out he honestly is one of the six best options in what hockey tradition forces me to call our defensive corps. That's not on Schultz, that's on the Oilers organization, and their failure is as constant as the Northern Star. Brandon Davidson had testicular cancer and carrying these turkeys is still the biggest kick in the balls of his life. Why didn't Blake Comeau get a penalty for crosschecking Davidson into the boards? Because they're trying to legalize euthanasia in Colorado.
Exhibit B: Anders Nilsson. The Swedish Mike Morrison had a rough game, meaning he looked like the guy whose career NHL stat line, prior to his recent run, was indistinguishable from Jeff Deslauriers. That was bad, he should feel bad, there's no sugarcoating it. So why was Semyon Varlamov unbeatable on the other end despite battling real forwards rather than muffins like Jack Skille and an Iginla so old he thinks the A on his chest stands for adultery? Because, even though they're a crummy-ass team, the Avalanche do have a blue line who fight for the puck and block passing lanes and do defensive things. Average goalies can look good when that is happening. The Oilers wouldn't know.
Todd McLellan put Schultz and Nikita Nikitin on the same pairing. I'm not a prude but that was offensive. It's the hockey equivalent of using poison gas when the wind is blowing into your own trenches, not that those guys don't deserve a dose of phosgene. Donkeys led by donkeys?
Well, no, because most of the Oilers weren't donkeys. Taylor Hall was out there, and Leon Draisaitl, and Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and a decent stock of Pouliots/Purcells/Letestus/decent NHL forwards who actually played pretty damned well, a legitimate crew even while Nail Yakupov is hurt and our fanbase prays for McJesus to be resurrected on Christmas in defiance of all orthodox doctrine. They can only hold up their end of the bargain, and if the other three players on the ice are reeking piles of rotting leaves what are they supposed to do, rag the puck and do it all by themselves? (Hall tried, and for half an hour there it looked like he might pull it off.)
The CBC's booth full of second-rate illiterate NBC rejects kept insisting that the Oilers were improving compared to last year, only a decade into the rebuild. Since the Oilers lost 5-1 to a team literally coached by Patrick Roy and are racing through their traditional Christmas drive for the draft lottery, this made me laugh the hollow laugh of a tuberculosis victim watching an annoying man die of scurvy. What's really funny is that it's true. Those forwards deserve the playoffs. The Oilers even outplayed the Avalanche, apart from the goaltending and the defending and the special teams, for most of the sixty minutes. There are many positives to take from that game, like "Taylor Hall is the best player in the NHL who doesn't know what the playoffs look like" and "if you traded some of these guys to Minnesota they would absolutely win the Stanley Cup."
That Andrej Sekera goal was nice. What's with Andrej Sekera? We saw him to advantage tonight: he scored but was otherwise invisible, and that's a good thing. But the man who ought to have been the stabilizing influence on a desperate blueline, the oasis of sanity in the howling deserts of madness, has been sort of "a poor man's Tom Gilbert." We had actual Tom Gilbert and that wasn't good enough to save us from Jason Strudwick playing nine-minute shifts while the urine flowed out of his pants and froze on the ice. Something about coming to Edmonton takes the decent down a notch; it's even happened to McLellan and Peter Chiarelli. It's almost as if even basically talented people need teams that can share the burden, and if you throw all your chips at a few modest difference-makers and count on them to push your squad of children and inbreds over the top, everyone is going to die. But that's probably heresy. I bet the new arena's gonna be great!