But when bad teams go into slump, yikes, you get what you see in Calgary right now – a team shut out in five of its last eight games, which managed to finally get one to go against the Penguins during Saturday’s 2-1 loss. That goal, by Mikael Backlund, scored in the third period, only served to highlight how dry the offence had been of late. It snapped a shutout span of 174 minutes and 59 seconds overall; and on home ice, it had been 196 minutes and 59 seconds between goals for the Flames.
Jiri Hudler, who didn’t make the Czech Republic’s Olympic team this past week, continues to chip away – he is 15 points ahead of his nearest competitor in the team scoring race – but Sean Monahan, the first month’s rookie sensation, has slowed down; as has Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak and Matt Stajan, all of whom had decent offensive starts to the season.
The Oilers’ upside looks far greater than Calgary’s and the challenge for them is to string some wins together in the second half, so they can hit the ground running next season. This season, of course, is a lost cause.
With three days in town, Crosby was asked a lot of questions about the Oilers; specifically in relation to how much time a young team built around premium draft choices should reasonably need before starting to get its act together. Crosby’s responses were all polite – he praised the Oilers skill and the style of hockey they play – and noted that in his first year, the Penguins managed just 58 points and finished 15th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. All true – but the next year, Malkin arrived from Russia; they jumped to 105 points; lost to a good Ottawa team in the first round that would eventually get to the Stanley Cup final that year. To a man, the Senators players all predicted the Penguins would be a handful from that year forward, and they have been. They went to the final in Crosby’s third year and won in his fourth and have been a dominant regular season team in seven of his first eight seasons. So against that body of work, the Oilers are miles behind.
You wonder. Lots of people in Edmonton believe that owner Darryl Katz had some significant input into the decision to draft Nail Yakupov first overall in 2012 rather than opt for the safer choice, defenceman Ryan Murray, who would have filled a greater organizational need. With every passing day, that decision looks more and more suspect. Murray was limited to 23 games with the Everett Silvertips last year because of major knee surgery, but even as an NHL rookie, has looked good on the Columbus defence, playing a lot with James Wisniewski and providing the defensive presence on that pair. What if Murray turns out to be Alex Pietrangelo good – and they left him on the table to draft another offensive player, of which they had plenty already? How do you assess blame there? Or maybe they already have, since the GM that called Yakupov’s name, Steve Tambellini, is no longer running the show.
JUST DUCKY: Quietly and without much fanfare, the Anaheim Ducks have been pulling away from the pack in the Pacific Division. They were 16-1 in their past 17 heading into a Sunday date with the Detroit Red Wings, and became the first team to go on such a run since the Washington Capitals went 17-1 three years ago. The common thread – Bruce Boudreau coached both teams. There was talk earlier this year that the Ducks might consider moving pending unrestricted free agent goalie Jonas Hiller because of their organizational depth in net, but that seems unlikely now, with Hiller firmly established as the team’s starter, Boudreau having a number of younger options as his second choice, including highly touted John Gibson.