SUN Hockey Pool

Squeezing the stick

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

ANAHEIM -- One need only follow the trail of sawdust - or whatever it is the Edmonton Oilers are leaking - to understand how tightly they are squeezing their sticks.

It's a tell-tale sign of troubled times that have landed the Oilers on Disney's door tonight with just three wins to show for their last 10 games as they come calling on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Devoid of confidence, mistake-prone and struggling mightily to regain the occasional swagger and efficiency of their first 41 games, the Oilers aren't in a freefall yet. Still, with only two wins and six of a possible 16 points since the halfway mark, they're in trouble.

KICK IN THE PANTS NEEDED

Clinging to eighth place in the Western Conference and just four points up on Anaheim, this is an outfit in need of some leadership and a kick in the pants from within. That, or a shake-up from GM Kevin Lowe.

Any takers on the former?

"We have 33 games left, so if we want to do it, we're going to do it," said Ethan Moreau after Monday's 3-1 loss to Calgary. "We can climb back to the top. It's up to us. We'll see what we've got down the stretch. We're in a bit of a lull right now and it's up to the leaders in the room to get us out of it. I'm confident we will."

Confident? Considering the Oilers haven't beaten anybody any good except the San Jose Sharks the last 10 games, I'm not as convinced. Wins over Chicago and Pittsburgh? By all means, plan the parade route.

"We went through stretches where we felt we could never lose," Moreau said. "We had everybody going and lots of energy. We don't have that right now. It's collective.

"We're going to have to find a way to get it back. We all know the guys who are responsible for that. That's why we're in the position we're in. We've played in the league a long time. We have to get the team going."

If it sounds like Moreau is calling himself and other veterans out, he is. But will it be enough?

The Oilers continue to try to overcome mediocre goaltending from the unworkable carousel of Mike Morrison, Jussi Markkanen and Ty Conklin, although that hasn't been what ails them lately.

The second line, Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres and Radek Dvorak, isn't even a factor right now. The offence, in general, has stalled. The Oilers are out of sync up front, prone to lapses on the back end and their stoppers are too often good for one bad goal a night.

If there's a silver lining, it's that the Oilers have been infinitely better on the road, where they're 14-8-4, than at home, where they're11-10-2.

"We've got to play the same game," Michael Peca said. "On the road, we're doing a lot of the little things better than we are at home. Some of the guys are squeezing their sticks. They're so worried about scoring goals.

JUST PLAY A SOLID GAME

"I think if we just go out and play a solid game, an all-around game, points will come. Right now, we're just pressing."

Maybe a healthy jolt of follow-me-boys from the likes of Moreau, captain Jason Smith, Chris Pronger, Ryan Smyth and Peca in tandem with some simple road hockey can turn things around.

"It's second nature to play a simpler game on the road," said Shawn Horcoff. "That's probably why we have a better record than at home. The proof is in the pudding."

Lose tonight, and the Oilers will have the Mighty Ducks right behind them. Fail to get it together on this trip, and the players risk bringing Lowe into play. They already have, actually.

"I'm sure he's looking," Pronger said. "He's got a lot of cap room. I don't think there's too many teams who have as much as we do, but it's a tough market out there to find anybody right now. There's not a lot of teams who are going to give up anything."

Best leave the boss out of it, boys.

Any takers?


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