OIL­ERS SHOW OFF SKILLS

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERT TY­CHKOWSKI Twit­ter: @rob_­ty­chkowski rty­[email protected]­media.com

Leon Drai­saitl signs a puck for a young fan dur­ing the Oil­ers’ skills com­pe­ti­tion on Sun­day. Dar­nell Nurse clocked the fastest slap shot with a blis­ter­ing 102.1 m.p.h.

You look at three wins in the past nine games and won­der how it’s pos­si­ble that the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers are not dead and buried yet.

Then you look at the Western Con­fer­ence wild-card chase, also known as the Cen­tral Pa­cific Zom­bie Walk, and it all makes sense.

It’s hard to tell if this race is dra­matic or just sad. There are five teams (maybe six af­ter Ed­mon­ton let Ari­zona into the party Satur­day) sep­a­rated by three points, look­ing for two play­off spots.

A high-stakes, multi-team log­jam like that nor­mally would make for some bril­liant the­atre, but it doesn’t quite have the same im­pact when every­one in­volved is prac­ti­cally beg­ging some­body else to take it.

The “race” be­tween Colorado, Min­nesota, Ana­heim, Van­cou­ver, Ed­mon­ton and maybe Ari­zona has been de­scribed as a tur­tle derby, which is in­ac­cu­rate and in­sult­ing to tur­tles.

As we all know from the story, tur­tles are slow and steady and oc­ca­sion­ally will win the race.

This is no tur­tle derby. This looks like five drunks try­ing to stum­ble their way out of a house of mir­rors at the car­ni­val.

When the smoke cleared af­ter a full slate of games Satur­day, the chal­lengers looked like this:

Colorado: one win in their past 10 games; Ana­heim: win­less in their past 10 games; Ed­mon­ton: three wins in their past 12 games; Min­nesota: five wins in their past 13 games; Van­cou­ver: five wins (two against Ed­mon­ton) in their past 11 games.

This is ba­si­cally a slower ver­sion of OJ’s low-speed chase down the San Diego Free­way. But two play­off spots are still right there for the tak­ing. All any­body has to do it take one.

“That’s go­ing to be the fo­cus for us, that we are right in the fight, we’re not out of it at all,” de­fence­man Dar­nell Nurse said. “There have been ups and downs, but at this point of the sea­son all the cards are in our hands. We have the abil­ity to make it a great sea­son or one that we look back on with a lot of ifs.”

This bot­tle­neck prob­a­bly won’t last for­ever. A team or two from the Drab Five is go­ing to get hot, and that will be it. So now would be a good time to pick up the pace.

“We’re right there, we’re right in the mix,” Leon Drai­saitl said. “So we have to make sure we grab this thing, right now. There’s not much else to say.”

If they had fig­ured it out al­ready, they would be free and clear. In­stead, it’s been un­der­achieve­ment, in­con­sis­tency and frus­tra­tion. They needed a prayer with eight sec­onds left to get Florida to over­time, and with the lessons learned from that close call, lost 3-2 at home to what was left of the Coy­otes two days later.

They had 16 shots in a 4-0 loss to the last-place L.A. Kings. They were out­shot 30-23 and went 0-5 on the power play in los­ing at home to 13th place St. Louis. They dropped back-to-back losses to a Van­cou­ver team that used those four points to track them down from be­hind.

Af­ter al­most off of those let­downs, coach Ken Hitch­cock was lament­ing lost puck bat­tles, lost races to loose pucks and his team’s un­will­ing­ness to fight for space around the op­po­si­tion net.

Those are not tal­ent is­sues. Every­one knows the Oil­ers ros­ter isn’t as strong as it needs to be, but plenty of av­er­age teams have found suc­cess by work­ing harder than op­po­nents with su­pe­rior skill.

Ed­mon­ton, aside from rare glimpses dur­ing a cou­ple of hot streaks, hasn’t shown it­self to be one of those teams yet.

GREG SOUTHAM

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