SUN Hockey Pool

Oil a work in progress

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Having escaped a seven-game losing streak without losing his job or seeing half his team traded, Craig MacTavish stood his ground as the media asked tough questions at Rexall Place yesterday.

Right. The session was more like softball batting practice. Nothing high and tight. Pretty much everything lobbed underhand.

With the Edmonton Oilers on a two-game winning steak after victories in Dallas and Nashville -- quelling demands MacTavish and his staff be sacked and somebody, anybody, be traded for a goaltender and a bucket of pucks -- I expected someone to ask if MacT was worried overconfidence could be a problem against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight.

Bums one day, heroes the next. That's the way it is for the Oilers in this town, where rushing to judgment and leaping on and off the bandwagon are civic pastimes and indifference is discouraged.

URGE TO PURGE

With GM Kevin Lowe having resisted the urge to purge, so it goes for the Oilers, who've been up, down and all-around in their first 12 games. Sometimes good. Too often lousy.

Never dull.

"We're very much a work in progress right now, as we all know," understated MacTavish, talking about the most recent reversal of fortune. "The turnovers helped. Getting healthy helped. Getting some good, timely saves, certainly in the Nashville game, helped."

Off to a 3-0 start when the wheels fell off, the Oilers got pumped 7-1 by Colorado Oct. 21 and bag-skated by MacTavish when a 5-3 loss in Denver Oct. 25 made it seven straight defeats and had the faithful insisting something be done.

Wins in Big D and Music City to end the worst losing streak in a decade have, for the time being, quieted those demanding MacTavish's head and cooled the phone lines on local radio talk shows.

"We know the landscape," MacTavish said. "The appetite for that type of (losing) streak around here is non-existent. Everybody has a job to do in this business and we know that goes with the territory."

Lowe wasn't going to dismantle this team based on the embarrassment against Colorado or the disheartening fold-job for the encore in Denver, where the Oilers squandered a 3-2 lead by allowing three goals in the final six minutes. That's not the time to make a deal.

With the two wins in the books and things somewhat settled down, now is a more sensible time to make a move. That doesn't mean Lowe has anything on the front burner. In fact, he doesn't.

"You want to be able to make deals from a position of strength," Lowe said, knowing that's not always the case. "And, as always, the deal has to make sense for today and tomorrow."

The Oilers have done their due diligence. Before Lowe does anything -- the speculation about Olaf Kolzig and Martin Biron, we know -- he wants to see how Ty Conklin responds to a conditioning stint in Hamilton. The best-case scenario for Lowe is to have his goaltending sort itself out without having to make a trade. That would allow Lowe to focus on adding scoring up front. That, if Conklin, Jussi Markkanen or even Mike Morrison can stop enough pucks, is Lowe's priority.

"Can Ty Conklin play in the NHL? Absolutely. He's already proven that," said Lowe. "What we've seen is not the goalie we know. Will he turn it around? Absolutely. He's got the ability."

What Lowe sees between now and the end of a seven-game road trip -- which begins in Detroit Thursday -- will influence what moves he makes to a greater extent than anything witnessed during the seven-game slide.

HIT BOTTOM?

If Ryan Smyth can regain his form after returning from a sprained MCL, if Michael Peca can step up his offensive game and if Conklin, Markkanen or Morrison can get it done on this trip, who knows?

An optimist -- there are more of those around this week than last -- might suggest the Oilers have already turned the corner, that they hit bottom with the blown lead in Denver and subsequent bag skate. We'll see.

"It was a start," MacTavish said. "Hopefully, long-term, we look at that as one of the trigger points for a real successful year."


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