EDMONTON – What was supposed to be a weekend of tee times, warm weather and relaxation for the Edmonton Oilers has been replaced by two-a-day sessions of lung-busting line rushes, special teams drills and hours of chalk talk and breaking down video tape.
With just one win to show for their last 12 games after a listless 4-2 loss to Columbus at Rexall Place on Thursday, the Oilers played themselves off the golf course and into the practice rink long before the Blue Jackets beat them to snap a 13-game losing streak on the road.
Coach Pat Quinn cancelled a golf getaway to Palm Springs, a junket planned for players, wives and team sponsors, following a 4-1 loss in San Jose on Jan. 1. Instead of donning golf spikes in California, the Oilers, dead-last in the Western Conference and sitting 29th in NHL standings, pulled on their skates and hit the ice for what Quinn called a “mini-camp” Friday.
Golf season will arrive soon enough.
“We’re not looking back at our situation and the trip being cancelled,” defenceman Sheldon Souray said after players filed off the ice in sweat-soaked equipment. “We’re over that.
“We just have to keep having fun. The bottom line is coming here to work and learn, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have fun. Our situation is bleak. We talk about it every day. It is what it is. We’re going to work to get out of it.”
At 16-23-5 for 37 points after the loss to the Blue Jackets, the Oilers awoke Friday morning before the first of two on-ice sessions sitting 16 points behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Kings.
Barring a turnaround of epic proportions in their final 38 games, the Oilers will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year, so they will have plenty of time to dust off their golf clubs starting April 12, the day after they wrap up their regular season schedule against Anaheim.
As grim as the situation is, Souray provided some levity for his weary teammates at the end of the second session as players stretched before leaving the ice when he quipped, “So, for sure we’re not going to Palm Springs?”
“They worked hard,” Quinn said. “There’s lots about this team I can’t complain about.
“In general, our practice days, our attitude, our spirits seem fine. It’s just during hockey games, we seem to get down on ourselves badly and make those horrendous individual sort of mistakes. We’re trying to find out, why is it happening?”
Billionaire owner Daryl Katz gave the Oilers a break from the grind of last season when he hosted a team golf outing in California, and this weekend was supposed to be more of the same. A charter flight was arranged, the course was booked, caterers were hired and hotel accommodations were reserved.
Quinn, who again ripped his players for indifferent effort and poor execution after the loss to the 14th-place Blue Jackets, obviously felt a four-day break between games would be better spent in the chill of the rink. Given the last dozen games, it’s difficult to argue with his reasoning.
“It felt like training camp,” said defenceman Tom Gilbert. “Hopefully, what we can use from this is to get a clean slate and just review the stuff that’s been hurting us these past few games. We’ve seen plenty of video of things we have to do better in every zone.
“That (the golf trip) was supposed to be kind of a reward for us. We put ourselves in this situation. You’d like to be there right now enjoying time off, having some team-building stuff away from the rink, but, like I said, we put ourselves in this situation and we have to dig ourselves out of it.”
The Oilers will be back on the ice for two sessions Sunday. Quinn hasn’t decided what’s in store for the final two days of the break before the Oilers host Nashville Tuesday.
“If it’s we’re not skilled enough, that’s one thing,” Quinn said. “We’ve shown we have enough to compete against a lot of teams here.
“So, a lot of it has to do with the intelligence and the intangible attitude side of the game that we need to continue to work on. With athletes, it’s not just about your drills.”