EDMONTON – Common sense suggests playing five of their final six games at Rexall Place should be a big boost to the playoff hopes of the Edmonton Oilers, but as Craig MacTavish’s team has proven time and again, home ice might turn out to be a bust.
With a 16-14-6 record within the confines of Rexall Place after a 3-2 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, the Oilers haven’t enjoyed any kind of significant edge at their own rink this season.
While the Oilers have had a string of 150 consecutive sell-outs, they haven’t provided their faithful much to cheer about, too often lacking intensity and consistency, as was the case against the Wild.
The Oilers held a 45-minute meeting prior to their morning skate Monday to discuss exactly that, but didn’t emerge from it with many answers as to why their shortcomings have been more pronounced at home.
“I don’t have a great answer,” said captain Ethan Moreau. “I’ve definitely noticed a bit of a different attitude when we’re on the road.
“It’s a little more fearless. Guys are a little bit looser. That translates, at least for our team, to playing harder and being more intense. I don’t know if guys put too much pressure on themselves at home. I don’t have the answers, and it’s definitely frustrating.”
With the Anaheim Ducks in town Tuesday, the 10th-place Oilers are going to have to find some answers if they are to have any hope of climbing back into a top-eight spot in the Western Conference.
“You ask yourself, as a coach, a couple of questions,” MacTavish said. “You ask yourself, firstly, are you committed enough? Secondly, are you good enough? If you can’t answer yes to the first question, it doesn’t matter about the second.
Going into games Monday, Edmonton’s 16 home wins ranked 28th in the NHL. Only Toronto and Tampa Bay have fewer. Their 37 points ranked 27th, ahead of only Colorado, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. They are last in goals at home, with 94.
Even with a strategic edge by virtue of the last line change at home, the Oilers power play is ranked higher on the road (12th) than at home (21st), as is their penalty killing (24th at home and 27th on the road).
“I think we have to keep things a little more simple at home,” said defenceman Steve Staios. “I don’t know if we’re trying to impress or trying too hard to make plays, but I think we simplify our game on the road.
“It’s no time for us to look back now. It’s time for us to respond. This is a good opportunity for us to show our character and what we’re made of.”
The Oilers, losers of four of their last five games overall, have been better on the road, with a 20-17-3 record for 43 points, which does not bode well for their playoff aspirations.
The standings show success at home is a must – it’s probably no coincidence the 16 teams in playoff spots in both conferences going into games Monday accounted for the top-16 home ice records.
“I think we feel a little bit more pressure here,” said defenceman Sheldon Souray. “We’re trying, at times, to do too much. The old saying ‘less is more’ probably couldn’t be more true for us at certain points of the game.
“A lot of times we’re sitting at home going, ‘If we feel our way into the game, we can get into it.’ When we go on the road and we play Anaheim, we know they’re coming out and you have no choice but to be ready. If you’re not, you’re dead in the water.
“We probably didn’t feel that playing Minnesota. We kind of dipped our toes in a little bit, but we didn’t dive right into the water. When you do that, you’re asking for trouble. We’ve done that a lot.”
With home dates against Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Calgary, the Oilers haven’t managed more than three straight wins in a row at home. Their longest winless streak at Rexall Place is five games.
“Maybe this team is just more comfortable on the road. It just seems that way,” said forward Dustin Penner.
“We’ve got to find a way. It’s tough. You can talk about it until you’re blue in the face, but the only thing that matters is the next 18 periods of hockey. That’s all that matters, right?”