Monday, October 23, 2006
It was last spring that the Oilers began to demonstrate the instincts of a true contender. When they got knocked down they got back up. When they knocked an opponent down they didn't let them get up. Instead they got down there and choked them dead.
When they weren't at their best they invariably found a way to win.
Saturday night and most nights this season they have continued this. This team has a swagger to it that almost fifteen years of Oilers' squads did not. While the PP has been for the shits and a lot of individuals are struggling in the offensive end of the rink, the truth is if you had told me in September that we would be 5 and 2 at this point, after a tough schedule to start the year, and with the team not really firing on all cylinders yet, I would be damn pleased. And I am.
So now, after games against divisional rivals, Stanley Cup favourites and still dangerous aging powerhouses, the Oilers face a week in which they tangle with another early favourite in Anaheim as well as a couple of also rans in Phoenix (twice) and Washington.
As chris! points out and as all of us remember from last season's Bataan Death March to the playoffs, the Oilers can struggle when facing teams that they should handle easily. Give them the Wings or Stars or Avs of old and they will charge out, full of vigour, as randy as a Republican at a Boy Scout jamboree. Give them the Hawks or the Jackets and they come out, well, not like that.
The thing is, if the Oilers can force the Yotes and Capitals to try and keep up to them then its likely six points. There are times you will lose to a weaker opponent - it happens. But if the Oilers are looking to establish themselves as contenders once again then they had better take the points from the weak sisters of the conference more times then not. They should make it a matter of course. Leaving points on the table - not a good idea. Ask the Canucks, who likely left a playoff spot in Missouri last year.
I think that based on comments from the players that this team is still striving to get where it wants to get and that this fact, combined with a lot of individuals trying to find their games, leads to some really good performances this week.
The man in the mask? Ken Dryden of course.
The meaning? In The Game, Dryden describes the dressing room as the Habs prepare to face the Red Wings. A terrific passage. Shutt clowning around, needling his teammates. LaFleur wonders about with a coffee and smoke. Bowman trying to prepare them for a game against a team which has been terrible for over a decade. He does all he can to prepare his team, one of the great dynasties in hockey history, to play a squad that has nothing. Absolutely nothing.
One of his exhortations - its four point game!
Once he leaves Dryden describes a team that is not ready, that knows it has two points in the bag with just a modicum of effort, that has to motivate itself to care. He runs through all of the cliches the team throws out. As they begin to ramp up, someone shouts out "C'mon boys, its four pointer!"
To which some wit replies that if the Wings win it they will close the gap between the teams to 39 points.
Even one of the best teams in history struggled with this situation. Lets see if the Oilers can prove this week that they have figured out what needs to be done.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:15 PM