SUN Hockey Pool

Smith slams Oilers' lack of intensity, effort

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

Finally, a complete effort.

The Edmonton Oilers had flirted with futility but never really fully embraced it in fashioning a five-game losing streak as the Colorado Avalanche came calling at Rexall Place last night.

Some games, lousy starts did the Oilers in. Other times, spotty goaltending scotched decent efforts. Inept special teams, like a power play that faced the Avs on a 1-for-31 lurch during the losing streak, had thrown a wrench in the works. If it wasn't one thing, it was another.

Well, the Oilers didn't waste time teasing their fifth straight sell-out crowd with snippets. They put all their shortcomings together in a stunning 7-1 loss that was so utterly complete there was never any hope or doubt.

"There was nothing positive about that game," understated captain Jason Smith. "We didn't have the intensity. We didn't have the execution level. We didn't have the effort.

"That's unacceptable and every player in this room has to be accountable for it. I don't remember ever playing in a game like this. We didn't have any emotion. We couldn't battle back. We couldn't get anything going physically. It was just an all-around brutal game."

After three straight wins to open the season, the Oilers have now lost six straight for the first time in a decade - this is their worst skid since they dropped nine straight games March 23-April 9 of 1995. How bad was it? Even the resident TV guys struggled mightily to spin this one - pointing out that Ethan Moreau had points in three straight games when he nixed David Aebischer's shutout bid was a bit of a stretch.

"From breakouts to neutral-zone play, both offensively and defensively, the fore-checking, the penalty killing, the power play, just everything, it seems like we've hit bottom," Chris Pronger said. "I sure hope we have."

Finn Jussi Markkanen, solid until last night despite the Oilers struggles, didn't even make it to the first intermission after giving up three goals on the first 13 shots.

Down 2-0 on a power-play goal by Pierre Turgeon and a deft deflection on the backhand by John-Michael Liles, Markkanen got the hook in favour of Ty Conklin when Liles got his second, sifting a point shot past him low on the stick side 14:09 in.

With the Oilers outclassed and outworked at every turn, not to mention outshot 16-6 in the first period, Markkanen got the mercy yank from coach Craig MacTavish and Conklin saw his first action since giving up two goals on seven shots in a 3-2 loss to Dallas Oct. 14.

Mind you, Markkanen was back in the four-by-six to mop up after Conklin gave up four goals on 14 shots.

"I think the most important thing for us now is to have a very professional, serious attitude when it comes to practice," said Michael Peca.

"We've been pretty hard on ourselves in practice, but I think paying attention to the little things will pay dividends."

When Milan Hejduk, in his first appearance of the season after coming off knee surgery, coaxed the rubber past Conklin 1:02 into the second period, the laugher was on. Even the Avs, who coughed up a 4-1 lead in a 5-4 loss to Los Angeles Wednesday, weren't giving this one back.

After doing nothing to force the issue when it mattered, the Oilers at least showed some fire as frustration spilled over, but all the rough stuff was a lot too little, a lot too late.

"You try not to get too down and you try not to get too high," Pronger said.

"You have to try to play within a range and be consistent. Right now, we're down. We need a pick-me-up. We need to bounce back."

AROUND THE RINK ... the Oilers have been outshot just 92-82 in first periods through nine games, but have been outscored 14-5 ... Joe Sakic assisted on Hejduk's 4-0 goal to move into a tie with Dale Hawerchuk for 15th place in NHL career scoring with 1,409 points.


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