SUN Hockey Pool

Chemical imbalance

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Are the Edmonton Oilers about to Heritage Classic themselves?

Is Craig MacTavish's team already in the process of doing - in and around the latest larger than life event, the Paul Coffey/Wayne Gretzky game - what they did following the outdoor game played before 60,000 fans by sewering their season?

Are the Oilers about to blow another Battle of Alberta before it begins? Are they headed down the road to handing the Calgary Flames 11 of 12 points or even more now that they play eight instead of six?

Are they about to do what they've done so often before - clear out for the rodeo and come back looking like they've been in a rodeo.

TOO EARLY FOR CRISIS MODE?

It's far too early as 82-game regular seasons normally go to be in a crisis mode. But as the Oilers head to Calgary tonight with a return match here against Colorado Friday and 11 of their next 13 games on the road, maybe we're looking at one.

The Oilers went into the Heritage Classic on a four-game win streak and three games over .500. They won only three of their next 18.

They head to Calgary tonight coming off a 3-0 start to the season but having lost their last four including an empty effort against Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes. They've been down 2-0 in four of their last five games.

The fans are already all over goaltender Ty Conklin, defencemen Corey Cross, Igor Ulanov and Alexei Semenov. They've turned against fan favorite Georges Laraque.

They see Robbie Schremp lighting up the league back in junior hockey when the big team has gone back to its MO of not being able to put the puck in the net. They can't understand why Cross and Ulanov are there giving pucks away for goals when Dan Syvret made the team on talent in the pre-season but was shipped down to the minors because he didn't have the correct contract.

And they're waiting for Chris Pronger and Michael Peca to get rid of all their rust, put their name on games and assume their roles as very visible lead-the-way Oilers.

The fan, to some extent, is also cursing himself for getting carried away after those first three wins - not to mention entertaining the idea that the Battle of Alberta was going to go back to being about two teams who could meet in the playoffs instead of one sitting eighth and one sitting 12th as usual.

Yesterday the Oilers were out at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park having a captains-only meeting and facing a few realities.

"We all know the situation right now," said MacTavish. "It's time to get playing.

"That was a pretty weak effort from everyone," he said of the 4-3 overtime loss to the Coyotes. "Losing the game was one thing. The way we lost the game was the most disappointing and puzzling."

MacTavish said if there's any team in the league which should know how to use a banner-raising to fuel their fire, it should be this one. Instead it worked the other way.

"We didn't have a lot of emotion in the game early. We'd have survived it if we played a smart, intelligent game early.

"We've dealt with sitting there for 35 minutes before. You don't have your legs. But when you don't have your legs, you better have your head. We keep digging pucks out of our net in the first period."

LOOK AT THE ROAD AHEAD

But it's time to look at the road ahead and I do mean road ahead.

"It's a good time for us to go on the road. We're going to get healthy in the next little while," he said of the return of Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Todd Harvey.

MacTavish did a first-rate job of running a training camp to have his team ready to take a running start at the season dealing with the rule changes. And it worked.

Then they wasted it.

"That was the best hockey I've seen us play since I've been here," he said of his return to Edmonton as a coach.

"Now we're taking penalties early and digging ourselves a hole just deep enough early in the game that we can't get out of it."

Peca said stuff has been happening which shouldn't be happening.

"We're getting down on ourselves when we shouldn't be and it's kind of consuming us. There's no need to do that. We can't start to question the ability of our team. And we need to find our chemistry."

Sooner rather than later.


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