Time to ditch Zom­bie Walk

Oil­ers need to pick up the pace in wild­card chase

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - ROB TYCHKOWSKI rty­[email protected]­media.com @SUN_TYCHKOWSKI

You look at three wins in the last 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 wild­card 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 log jam like that would nor­mally 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 a tur­tle derby, which is in­ac­cu­rate and in­sult­ing … to tur­tles.

As we all know from the story, tur­tles are slow and steady and will oc­ca­sion­ally 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 night, the chal­lengers looked like this:

Colorado: one win in their last 10 games

Ana­heim: win­less in their last 10 games.

Ed­mon­ton: three wins in their last 12 games.

Min­nesota: five wins in their last 13 games.

Van­cou­ver: five wins (two against Ed­mon­ton) in their last 11 games.

This is ba­si­cally a slower ver­sion of O.J.’S low-speed chase along 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,” said de­fence­man Dar­nell Nurse. “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,” said Leon Drai­saitl. “So we have to make sure we grab this thing, right now. There’s not much else to say. We have to get to­gether and fig­ure out how to win hockey games.”

If they had fig­ured it out al­ready they would be free and clear. In­stead, it has 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 Los An­ge­les Kings. They were out­shot 30-23 and went 0-5 on the power play in los­ing at home to 13th-place St. Louis. They had back-to-back losses to a Van­cou­ver team that used those four points to track them down from be­hind.

Af­ter al­most of those let­downs, 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.

“At this time of year that’s the des­per­a­tion that you have to play with,” said Hitch­cock. “We have to find a way. We have to find more peo­ple to do more. Whether it’s the group that’s here or a group that’s some­where else, we have to find more peo­ple to do more if we ex­pect to get a dif­fer­ent re­sult.”

The re­liance on four play­ers to score their goals can’t con­tinue. Hitch­cock needs a sec­ond wave to come from some­where. And from the bot­tom-end play­ers who aren’t ex­pected to pro­vide of­fence, he needs more of what they are ex­pected to do.

“We can­not con­tinue to ask for per­fec­tion from our top play­ers ev­ery night and ex­pect to win hockey games,” said Hitch­cock.

There is still plenty of time for the Oil­ers to pull it to­gether and take one of those wild­card spots that no­body else seems to want.

But they ac­tu­ally have to play like they want it.

“I know what it takes to get in (the play­offs) and if this is the level we’re go­ing to play at, it’s not good enough,” Hitch­cock said af­ter the Ari­zona loss. “We’re go­ing to have to find a way to get more from this group.”

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