Todd McLellan cited the old Robert Louis Stevenson novella when describing his team’s recent performances. The Oilers head coach watched from the bench as the Oilers stormed out of the All-Star break with 5-1 and 7-2 wins over Columbus and Ottawa. Then, Edmonton dropped three straight road games (Montreal, New York Islanders and New Jersey) by a combined score of 15-3.
When it comes to finding middle ground between the highs and the lows, McLellan stresses it must be closer to the top than the bottom.
“I think if you’re shooting for somewhere in the middle you’re cutting yourself short,” he said. “We want to be above that middle line.”
McLellan says the term “inconsistent” is a kind word for what the Oilers have been over the last several games.
“We’ve certainly gone up and down since the All-Star break,” said McLellan. “We started out well and played good games, really good games, solid games. Then we obviously fell off the map a little bit. The falling off the map bit for me was not the fact we lost the games, of course we want to win, but the way we lost them and the input into them was disappointing. Then we recovered in New Jersey the other day, but still lost. The thing with the New Jersey game is yeah, it’s great we played hard and we competed. That’s expected night in and night out.”
For McLellan, the input and effort displayed by his club should be consistent throughout the season and even automatic. In their 5-1 loss in Montreal and 8-1 loss against the Islanders, the consistency wasn’t there.
The team took Wednesday off, giving the players time to reset. Coming out of a day off, there is still the matter of wiping away the remaining disappointment from the road.
“I still think we have to respond from what was a bad road trip,” said Oilers centre Mark Letestu. “It has to be a good effort from the start. We have to have a good effort. We have to bring the energy. We can’t sulk or hang our heads about what was a bad road trip. We have six games at home and we’ve got to string together some wins. Our window to get into the playoffs is getting smaller with every loss. We’ve got to put a heck of a run together to get back in it and it starts tonight.”
Tonight the Oilers host the Toronto Maple Leafs, a club that has posted similar results to Edmonton this season. Both teams have 47 points on the year. Regardless of where each of the teams are in terms of recent play or performance, the Oilers feel it’s all internal focus.
“We’re going to be worrying about our game tonight,” said Oilers defenceman Brandon Davidson. “I think we want to make sure we establish ourselves early, get everybody rolling and make sure we get all four lines and all pairs of defencemen going. We need to make sure we take care of ourselves. I think we have our game plan and as long as we follow that, we’ll be fine.”
Harnessing the energy of Rexall Place tonight will also be key. Considering Toronto is an Original Six team, the barn usually has its fair share of Leafs loyalty.
“We’ve played in that situation,” said Letestu. “Montreal was similar when they were in town. The Original Six teams have such big followings that it happens everywhere. It happened in Columbus or Pittsburgh or places that I’ve played. It’s no different here. Ultimately, if we play well, our fans still outnumber them out there. They’re still loud. There will be some energy to harness. I think it’s important to have a good start, get our fans behind us and get them going.”
Although the Oilers recalled goaltender Laurent Brossoit from the Bakersfield Condors, Cam Talbot was the first off the ice at morning skate and will start against the Leafs.
After tweaking lines and defensive pairings against the Devils, McLellan went back to some familiar looks for tonight’s game. Justin Schultz returns to action after being scratched in New Jersey. The lineup at morning skate was as follows:
Season series: The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 at Air Canada Centre on Nov. 30. Rookie goalie Garrett Sparks, currently with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, made 24 saves to win his NHL debut. Leo Komarov scored twice for Toronto, including the game-winner in the first period.
Maple Leafs team scope: Goalie Jonathan Bernier will start. Forwards Michael Grabner and Nazem Kadri took maintenance days and did not practice on Wednesday, but they are expected to play. Newcomers Jared Cowen and Colin Greening, acquired Tuesday in the nine-player trade that sent captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators, practiced with their new team for the first time; however, coach Mike Babcock would not say whether either would play. Greening had been with the Binghamton Senators of the AHL and was recalled by the Maple Leafs on an emergency basis; Cowen had been a healthy scratch 16 times this season and requested a trade earlier this year. "I'm happy I'm here, a fresh start, this is what I wanted," Cowen told the Maple Leafs website. "I wanted to be somewhere else; a good coaching staff, I know they're going to win here eventually." Forward Milan Michalek, also part of the trade, is out with a broken finger. The Maple Leafs are 3-9-2 in their past 14 games and began this five-game road trip with losses to the Senators (6-1 on Saturday) and Calgary Flames (4-3 on Tuesday).
Oilers team scope: Edmonton recalled goalie Laurent Brossoit from Bakersfield of the AHL and assigned backup goalie Anders Nilsson to the Condors. Cam Talbot has started nine of the past 11 games. The Oilers did not practice on Wednesday after returning from a 1-3-0 road trip that began with a 7-2 win at Ottawa last Thursday but was followed by three losses, 5-1 to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, 8-1 to the New York Islanders on Sunday and 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. "We're happy with the effort and the response," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers website. "Obviously, it was much improved over the past two games. Very competitive group that worked their butts off and gave themselves a chance to win. But that part of the game is a given. It should be a given on a nightly basis. That's the problem we have right now. I'm glad the group responded but short end of another one-goal loss." This is the start of a six-game homestand.