EDMONTON — Reluctant to publicly criticize his team for the better part of two seasons despite mounting defeats, head coach Tom Renney raised eyebrows when he lit into the Edmonton Oilers after a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday.
Renney has always been mindful to put the process of rebuilding a team that has finished 30th the past two seasons on equal footing with results during a tenure as head coach that has produced just 51 wins in 151 games. But he let the Oilers’ players have it after they opened a four-game homestand by losing for the eighth time in nine games at Rexall Place.
While Renney’s players had their say in a meeting before practice Tuesday, the response that matters will come Wednesday against the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets.
“My frustration is that we don’t play to our potential,” Renney said when asked about Monday’s comments. “We didn’t last night. We can be a good hockey club.
“We went out last night and played not to lose. Go play. Go play, you know? Appreciate the experience and the opportunity, those type of things. Play on your toes and not your heels. We can be a real good hockey club when we apply ourselves that way.
“You can’t play in fear of losing. You’ve got to go play hard. The least you can do is just leave it out there.”
Renney didn’t mince words Monday night after the Oilers (26-36-7) lost their fifth straight home game.
“It doesn’t take many for the wrong approach, the wrong attitude . . . to kind of make its way through your dressing room,” Renney said. “It doesn’t take many guys at all.
“We have a few people who have to look in the mirror here because this is unacceptable. You’re the Edmonton Oilers, you’re a millionaire, you have an opportunity to play the game . . . Suck it up and play hockey.”
Renney didn’t single anyone out for criticism after the loss, but his frustration was obvious.
“There’s going to be times where frustration is going to happen in games, especially when you’re 29th,” captain Shawn Horcoff said. “You know, to tell you the truth, that’s the first time it’s kind of maybe got to the point where he (Renney) had to address it this year. In years past, it’s been much more. Actually, I view it as a good thing.
“Today, we had a good chat and we talked about things among ourselves that we’ll keep between teammates. We’ve re-grouped and we’ll be ready to go (Wednesday).”
Pat Quinn publicly chastised his team more than once during the 2009-10 season en route to a 27-47-8 record and 30th-place finish. But the rant Monday was a rarity for Renney, who served as an assistant under Quinn before becoming the head coach to start the 2010-11 season.
The Oilers finished 30th again under Renney last season, going 25-42-12 and are 51-89-18 under Renney, who doesn’t have a contract for next season.
“Frustration creeps into a lot of people’s games,” Ryan Smyth said. “It’s a matter of overcoming it, not as an individual, but as a team.
“Not one guy is going to carry the load, you know? One guy can sure lead, but it takes everybody to be an impactful group. We’ve got to get back to doing that, doing the little things that make this team successful. We’ve got fight for each other’s pride in here.”
Despite Edmonton’s struggles, Renney has been a picture of patience. He has always stressed process and the development of youngsters like rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and second-year players Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle as the foundation of long-term success.
“I think if frustration didn’t happen at this point, you’d have a problem,” Horcoff said. “The thing is, we’ve got 20 guys who care. We’ve got guys who want to be better. They want to do better, individually and team-wise.
“That’s going to happen. We addressed it (Tuesday) and re-grouped and got a little bit of our frustration out. We talked about some problems we were having maybe, things we wanted to change and things we didn’t want to change going forward. We look forward to coming back and having a better effort against Columbus.”
GM Steve Tambellini, in Florida attending a meeting of NHL general managers, didn’t have an issue with Renney’s post-game comments.
“You expect your organization, your team, to be emotional,” Tambellini said. “They prepare to win every night and you expect the very, very best from all of your payers. Obviously he wasn’t happy with a couple and voiced his opinion. I don’t have a problem with that.”