DETROIT -- As a jumping-off point, Hockeytown has been the start of the road to ruin for teams passing through far more often than it's proven to be a route to redemption.
Considering how hot the Detroit Red Wings have been with nine straight wins, that remains the case. Still, a visit to Joe Louis Arena and Motor City to begin the longest road trip this season - seven games in 12 days - might be exactly what the Edmonton Oilers need.
Three wins removed from a seven-game losing streak, the team's longest in a decade, the Oilers come calling tonight on the heels of a 5-1 waltz past the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rexall Place Tuesday. At 6-6-1, the Oilers have been good and bad but seldom indifferent in 13 games, a stretch in which they've been all over the place in effort, execution and results. Win three. Lose seven. Win three. What's next?
As unfriendly a place as The Joe is at the best of times, there's something about the simplicity of road hockey that might serve the Oilers well here and in St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Columbus, Chicago and Colorado. Or not.
TOUGH TO READ
It's tough to read this bunch.
"We've kind of run the performance gamut," coach Craig MacTavish said of his unpredictable outfit. "We've gone from a team that looked exceptional early, certainly for the first three games, to a team that was mediocre to a team that looked undisciplined. Now, we're back playing decently."
After opening the season with wins over Colorado, Vancouver and Anaheim, the Oilers came headlong off the rails in a stretch that began with a 3-1 loss in Los Angeles Oct. 11 and didn't end until they gagged on a 3-2 lead and lost 5-3 in Denver Oct. 25. That, and a bag skate the next day, was the low point, which is saying something considering how the Avs buffed their boots on the Oilers backsides by a 7-1 score at Rexall Place Oct. 21.
"I think the Colorado game in here, you have to just write that one off," said Marty Reasoner. "It almost shocked you. For me, it was like, " I can't believe we could be that bad.' "
How can a team that looked so cohesive, determined and dominant in a 4-3 win over Colorado to open the season look so overwhelmed and outclassed in that 7-1 debacle?
There's got to be some middle ground, no?
"It's early and I think that, as a team, we're still trying to find our identity," Reasoner said.
"There's a lot of highs and lows in this game and we're trying to find that even keel."
After regaining their composure with wins over Dallas and Nashville on the swing and dominating the offensively challenged Blue Jackets in a laundry stop at home, this trip is truly pivotal.
By the time the Oilers jump a jet for home on the morning of Nov. 15, they'll have played 14 of their first 20 games on the road.
RELATIVELY GOOD SHAPE
If the Oilers go no worse than .500 this time out and get their act together in the process, they'll be in relatively good shape as they approach a stretch in which they'll play 14 of their next 22 games at home.
"Solid teams have that consistency level each and every night," said Chris Pronger.
"On the road, you're not trying to put on a show and you're not trying to entertain anybody. You're trying to win hockey games and play smart, simple hockey."