Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Need For A Pulse

When it comes to teams who absolutely own the Edmonton Oilers, there are two who tend to standout above all the rest…the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues. 

While they are far from the only two clubs who have enjoyed their fair share of success against the Oilers of recent vintage, they are the two who have, more often than not, managed to dominate the team wearing Orange and Blue in all facets of the game. 

Not surprisingly, the storyline was all too familiar on Tuesday evening in St. Louis, as Edmonton dropped a 4-2 decision to Ken Hitchcock’s crew. With the loss Edmonton has now gone thirteen straight without a win on the road, dating all the way back to November 9th and in all honesty, the final score was a rather flattering one for Todd Nelson’s side. 

On a night in which netminder Ben Scrivens allowed a harmless looking Vladimir Tarasenko wrist shot to sneak through him and put his team behind the eight-ball early in period number one, the result was rather predictable and frankly never in doubt. However, it was the lack of any sort of real response to anything the Blues threw their way which was so disappointing. 

One would think watching David Backes run their show for the umpteenth time would trigger some sort of reaction from a lineup who still have no idea of what or who they really are. Their defensive zone issues are well known to all who follow the National Hockey League. They do not score anywhere near enough to consistently win games and their unwillingness to engage in any sort of physical manner makes them truly a team with no identity. 

While expecting that to change overnight is not realistic, watching this group of players continually turn the other cheek or simply refuse to stand-up for one another has to stop. At the best of times, Edmonton has roughly five players who are willing to get their noses dirty and two of them, in Keith Aulie and Luke Gazdic, are not regulars. 

Meaning much of the so-called heavy lifting has been left to the trio of Matt Hendricks, Rob Kilnkhammer and Benoit Pouilot. Against a team like St. Louis, that is a recipe for disaster and it has now reached the point where a player like Backes knows he can quite literally do whatever he wants out on that ice. As an added bonus, the big American centre has been on fire as of late and continued on his torrid pace against the Oilers. 

In twenty-three plus minutes of ice-time, the thirty year old had a goal and an assist, was dominant in the face-off circle and essentially made Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a complete non-factor from start to finish. After two periods play, Edmonton was down a three spot on the scoreboard with all of eight shots on goal and despite getting a pair of meaningless third period markers from No. 67, the Oilers push back was minimal at best. 

To make matters worse, the last second altercation between Pouliot, Backes, Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, in which Nugent-Hopkins was the only guy who even attempted to jump in on his behalf of his teammate, was downright embarrassing. The fact not one of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Derek Roy or Justin Schultz felt the need to try and keep one of their teammates from being repeatedly punched in the head is utterly baffling. 

While none of those players are known for their willingness to engage physically, no one is asking them to get in there and drop the gloves. Sorry but standing back and watching one of “your guys” take multiple shots from three different players and doing absolutely nothing is unacceptable. Be it because they are intimidated or just have no interest in that side of the game, it cannot be allowed to continue. 

At this stage of the game, expecting a team like the Edmonton Oilers to go into the building of one of the better teams in the Western Conference and come away with two points is not even remotely realistic. However, expecting these players to have one another’s back should be a no-brainer but shockingly enough…it continues to be a major problem with the group. 

Again, from a talent standpoint, the roster is nowhere near good enough to win games on a nightly basis in the National Hockey League but this has absolutely nothing to do with talent. Until these players recognize it and actually do something to address the issue, they will continue to spin their collective wheels. 

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