No time for patience

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

Patience would be easier to come by if the Edmonton Oilers weren't in the throes of a six-game losing streak, this team's longest stretch of futility since 1995.

Back in the lineup for just one of those six defeats, a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche at Rexall Place Friday, Ryan Smyth knows through experience it's going to take time for his sprained right knee to come around. That's just the way it is.

"I found myself hesitating a bit out there that last game," admitted Smyth after giving the knee a twirl at an optional practice yesterday. "It had only been 13 days when I played.

"It's in the back of my mind, but as I get into the games more and feel more confident that everything is going to be OK, then I can push it a little bit. It's a process."

Smyth, 29, got the green light against the Avalanche after sitting out six games with a second-degree sprain of the MCL, the product of a harmless-looking hit by Vancouver's Bryan Allen Oct. 8.

Back at it a week before many expected, Smyth's return was muted, to say the least, by the waxing administered by the Avs. Smyth could have waited until tomorrow, when the Oilers open a three-game swing in Denver, to come back. That would have bought him an extra four days.

Of course, anybody who watched Smyth return early from surgery to repair a fractured ankle during the 2001-02 season to play for Team Canada at the 2002 Olympics, knows No. 94 isn't big on waiting.

"It's only one game," shrugged Smyth, who played 19:46 against the Avs, but didn't register a shot or a point. "I came back a little early, and it's probably not completely 100 per cent yet, but I'm confident."

It took a plate and surgical screws to put Smyth back together again in 2002. This time, he's relying on a bolstered brace to protect his wonky joint.

"I've got confidence in the brace," he said. "It doesn't hamper my skating or anything like that. Anything that's in my mind, I just have to let it go and get out and play.

"With the injuries I've had, the previous history, I know what it takes to work toward that light at the end of the tunnel."

Smyth needs one goal to reach 200 for his NHL career.

SHOT SHORTAGE

If you don't shoot the puck at the net, chances are it isn't going to go in the net. That's elementary stuff, but clearly a concept not enough Oiler forwards have taken to heart this season.

Outside Jarret Stoll, who went into Sunday's games tied with Atlanta's Marian Hossa for second in shots with 42, the Oilers don't have anybody unloading much rubber at opposing goaltenders.

It's the usual suspects when it comes to lack of shots. Ales Hemsky has no goals and just 17 shots in nine games. Radek Dvorak has just one goal and 19 shots - four of those came against Colorado Friday.

"He's had some unreal rushes where he's undressed guys," assistant coach Craig Simpson says of Hemsky, who'd rather pass or have dental work than shoot the puck.

"Players get tired hearing it, but it's part of the process. They'll hear us in drills saying, 'Shoot the puck. Shoot the puck.' You definitely won't score if you don't shoot."

Even Shawn Horcoff, who has three goals in the seven games he's played, has been stingy with the shots. He's taken just 13. After Stoll, Raffi Torres and Ethan Moreau rank next among Oilers with 25 shots each.

PROLIFIC PACE

If a six-game losing streak doesn't qualify as an emergency, then what does?

Sadly for the Oilers, that logic won't fly as far as putting in a call for 19-year-old Rob Schremp of the London Knights. A roster riddled with injuries and short of players constitutes an emergency, a stretch of rotten results does not. Schremp, scoring at an unconscious pace with the Knights - he has tallied 11-21-32 in only seven games - isn't an option.

AROUND THE RINK: Todd Harvey (high ankle sprain) will make the trip and be available to play ... Edmonton's power play went 1-for-6 against Colorado and is 2-for-37 during the losing streak ... Hemsky doesn't have a point during the losing the streak.


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