EDMONTON - Had things unfolded the way the Edmonton Oilers expected they would amid the optimism of October, they'd be facing the Calgary Flames on Friday and Saturday with the Northwest Division title hanging in the balance.
Instead, they'll be playing out the string as spoilers, cold consolation after being eliminated from the Western Conference playoff picture for the third straight season with Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Los Angeles. Regrets? The Oilers have a few.
"I seldom get caught in the moment, but I'm caught there right now," coach Craig MacTavish said. "I'm going to need a day, at least, to be able to give myself a little bit of a broader perspective than what I can share with anybody today. I don't have a lot to say. Hopefully, I can reflect on it and come up with something tomorrow. I don't have a lot to add."
In many ways, the loss to the Kings was a microcosm of a season marked by too many negative recurring themes for the Oilers to have any real chance of securing a top-eight spot.
They fell behind 2-0 early. The first goal was soft. The second goal came off a turnover. The Oilers spent 40 minutes carrying the play but were unable to finish their chances. In the end, they lost a must-win game against a team lower in the standings, and they did it at home.
"I don't think anyone here at the beginning of the season didn't expect to make the playoffs," Sheldon Souray said. "It's a bitter pill to swallow. No one beat us. We probably can't say we gave our best efforts and just came up short. We just didn't get the job done."
The Oilers are 17-17-6 at Rexall place, and have lost four of the first five games in a six-game homestand that was supposed to give them an edge in a building where they've had 154 consecutive sell-outs. Only 15th-place Colorado has fewer points at home.
"This is our building and these are our fans," said Andrew Cogliano. "To lose the games we were losing and not have a good record is really disappointing.
"That's a major regret. You're supposed to have the advantage. We obviously made it much harder on ourselves to play at home than we did on the road. I can't pin-point anything, I don't know for sure, but it's a situation that's pretty sad, actually."
The Oilers have been outscored 113-104 at home. Their 22nd-ranked power play is better on the road (12th) than at home (27th). Their penalty killing, 27th overall, is likewise better on the road (25th) than at home (28th).
"Slow starts plagued us a little bit throughout the year," defenceman Tom Gilbert said. "You know you have to be ready to play with the puck-drop, I think we found ourselves, more often than not, trailing teams. In this league, it's tough to catch up."
While sophomore Sam Gagner heated up in the stretch for the second season in a row, with 14 points in the last 15 games, first-liners Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky struggled. Horcoff has one goal in his last 13 games and Hemsky has two in his last 15.
Dwayne Roloson was the backbone of the playoff push, making his 36th straight start Tuesday, but the wear of the stretch started to show on this homestand. Alexander Frolov's 1-0 goal 55 seconds into the game came on a harmless looking shot that trickled between Roloson's pads.
"For whatever reason, we just weren't able to get the job done at home," Souray said. "When we got home we just felt, probably, that we could take our foot off the gas a little bit and have that games come to us. That never worked for us. I don't remember one night when it worked for us.
"There's definitely lessons to be learned. We can look back on some of those games we just weren't quite ready for. Three or four more wins in an 82-game schedule means the playoffs."
The Oilers will have a say in the Northwest Division title race, but only as spoilers. With Calgary and Vancouver fighting it out for top spot, the Oilers can do the Canucks, but not themselves, a favour.
"It sucks," said Gilbert. "It's a long season not to make playoffs, especially when you have high expectations. It's frustrating.
"The personnel we have, we should have given ourselves a chance to win every night and compete with the best teams in the league."