EDMONTON — Playing the role of spoiler is a consolation prize at best, but when a team is as hopelessly out of the playoff picture as the Edmonton Oilers are, players will take their motivation where they can find it.
Sitting 31 points out of eighth place in the Western Conference with 12 games remaining, the Oilers have nothing to play for in terms of the post-season, but three of the four teams that’ll come calling on them at Rexall Place during a four-game home stand certainly do.
The Detroit Red Wings, who face the Oilers today, are trying to hang on to eighth place in the conference. The San Jose Sharks, the opponent Sunday, are in a battle with the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the conference. The Vancouver Canucks, who come calling Tuesday, are trying to hold off the Colorado Avalanche for first place in the Northwest Division and the third overall seed in the conference.
Misery loves company.
“That’s the silver lining in this year,” said defenceman Ryan Whitney. “You can be a spoiler.
“The way I look at it, Detroit’s in a dogfight for the eighth spot. They come in here and play the 30th-place team and lose, imagine how good we’d feel. You take little victories like that as a sign you want to be here, you want to be playing. This is our chance to be in a playoff game. I think you have to look at it like that.”
With a record of 21-42-7 and 49 points, the Oilers were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on their last road trip. The writing was on the wall about missing the post-season for a fourth straight year several weeks before that.
“We want to spoil things for every team,” said Gilbert Brule. “Especially in our rink. We don’t want to give anything up easily.
“It’s been a tough year, obviously. Detroit’s an experienced team. San Jose, that’s a good team. For a team like us, everybody is going to be amped up to play teams like that. Vancouver is a rival. Sometimes, it can be hard to find motivation, but we’ve got to stick with it.”
Coach Pat Quinn is icing a line-up laden with NHL rookies and AHL journeymen because of season-ending injuries to Ales Hemsky, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ladislav Smid and Sheldon Souray. The Oilers have lost five straight games and 12 of their last 15 overall.
“When the puck drops, everybody competes and plays hard regardless of what the situation is,” said Fernando Pisani. “That’s how we’re going to approach the last 12 games.
“Everybody is competing for jobs. You still have to try to show that you want to stay and that you do belong. Ultimately, you want to win games. That’s why you play.”
Detroit has overcome injuries and early season struggles to climb into the playoff picture. On a 7-2-1 streak, the Red Wings are playing some of their best hockey of the season and have moved within three points of seventh-place Nashville.
“You want to prepare in a way that we play at a different level than we did on the road,” Whitney said of a trip that produced four straight losses. “We’re back home and it would be nice to spoil them (Detroit) for a game.
“Guys are going to have to do it themselves. There’s no real team motivation the guys can look forward to as far as playoffs. Guys can motivate themselves by saying, ’I want to score a goal’ or ’I want to have a big hit.’ We need guys to want to play and be ready to play.”
Rookie goaltender Devan Dubnyk is expected to start Friday, and he’ll be looking for his first NHL win. Dubnyk is 0-8-2 in 13 appearances, including 10 starts, with a 4.16 goals-against average and .868 save percentage.
The NHL record for games from the start of a career without a win is 16 — a mark set by Wilf Cude of the Philadelphia Quakers during the 1930-31 season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.