Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov had an ugly night during Saturday’s 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues, but he’d been okay prior to that. The problem was familiar. The Oilers played well enough in the opening period to get a lead, but couldn’t score – and when they fell behind by a couple of goals, the bottom just fell out on their team play.
Afterward, an increasingly frustrated coach, Dallas Eakins, didn’t mince words: “I’m pinning this loss on the boneheaded mistakes we make when we have everything going in our favor. It is like we love misery. It’s like, ’Oh hold on a second, things are going too well here. Let’s have some misery.’ I’ve had enough misery already and we’ve got some players who have been here for a number of years that have to be done with it. There has to be a change in the commitment level and the accountability from within the room.”
You never know, it could happen.
The NHL is in its annual Christmas trading freeze right now, but you’d have to assume general manager Craig MacTavish understands what’s needed – some sort of shake-up that gets the players’ attention and gets them out of their current lethargic state. Right now, morale is about as low as it can possibly go. The playoffs are hopelessly out of reach, but even if it costs them a top-three draft choice, the Oilers have to start winning in the second half, if only to convince themselves that it’s possible to do so with the core young group they’ve committed salary and term to (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins).
“The biggest thing I see in our game right now, the thing that separates us from good teams, is we’re not on the same page,” said forward Jordan Eberle. “We don’t play like a team. It’s been like that in too many games.”
ONE FINAL SHOOTOUT THOUGHT: The San Jose Sharks pulled one out of the fire Saturday night, recovering from a 2-0 deficit to the Dallas Stars to tie the game in regulation and then win in the fifth round of the shootout. That’s where coach Todd McLellan elected to send out Joe Thornton to try his luck – and he was the only shooter to score.
Thornton got his chance three places earlier than when he scored the game winner in the eighth round of a shootout against the Kings back in November. Thornton isn’t known as a scorer, but with his long reach and his soft hands, is fully capable of scoring on a breakaways and McLellan noted after the game that the Sharks may call his name more frequently, since he’s won two games for them already this season.
THE SHARK BITE: Tomas Hertl’s rookie of the year bid was likely derailed last week, when he had a knee-on-knee collision with Kings’ captain Dustin Brown and suffered a serious injury on the play. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson confirmed that Hertl would miss at least a month and said the team was prepared for it to be longer, depending upon what tests show after the swelling in Hertl’s knee subsides.
Hertl had spent most of the season on the top line playing with Thornton and Brent Burns, but with the Sharks in an offensive funk of late, McLellan switched it all up, and had Thornton playing with Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau against the Stars. It left Burns to play on a second line with the slumping Logan Couture and the mystifying Martin Havlat.
Couture had such a promising start for the Sharks this season that it looked as if he had booked his place on the Olympic team, but he’s been ice cold of late, and was a non-factor against the Stars (who are coached by Lindy Ruff, a member of Mike Babcock’s Canadian Olympic coaching staff). The Avalanche’s Matt Duchene has made a big push since returning to the lineup from injury (Sutter called him the NHL’s best player Saturday, which may be stretching the truth, but it doesn’t alter the fact that he is playing really well again after a bit of a mid-season lull).