Oilers Watch: Commitment to defense is needed

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Body language is so telling sometimes, especially when your team has lost 15 of 16 games.

But such is life in Oiler Land, where the latest humiliation came at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, a team missing three of its most experienced players (Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote and Marek Svatos) and dressing enough rookies to qualify for the Memorial Cup.

The Avs, naturally, dashed the Oilers. Those young kids ran Edmonton ragged Monday night and it got me thinking: If the Oilers are going to suck up any sense of respectability this year, they must do it with defense. Boring, stodgy defense.

Now this is not a Pat Quinn favorite; the grand ol’ coach prefers to light the red lamp, but as I’ve said before here, the Oilers aren’t talented enough to beat many – if any – teams in the NHL this year.

The problem, as demonstrated Monday night, is that defense is a weakness. Goalie Jeff Deslauriers was left all by himself on enough occasions against Colorado that the game was out of reach before Edmonton even got a sniff.

On the second goal of the 6-0 shellacking, Avs rookie Matt Duchene gathered up and deposited a rebounded right in front of the Edmonton net. Forming a perfect triangle around the teen (Duchene turned 19 last week) were Deslauriers, defenseman Ladislav Smid and left winger Dustin Penner. None of them came near Duchene, who, at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds isn’t small, but is downright diminutive compared to the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Penner and 6-foot-3, 226-pound Smid.

Now granted, the Oilers were killing a 5-on-3, but the two men in the box at the time were captain Ethan Moreau and veteran leader Sheldon Souray. Neither penalty was a good one.

Compete level was certainly missing against Colorado and if the Oilers are going to snap out of their funk, they must earn it. Clamping down on a goals-against that ranks in the bottom five of the league will require commitment to team defense, since it’s clear they can’t keep up offensively with the rest of the NHL.

And that commitment must come from the top. Otherwise, the bloodbaths will continue.

This article also appeared in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.


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