SUN Hockey Pool

Down time for Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Kicked in the butt Sunday night, slapped in the face yesterday morning.

It's been a tough couple of days for the shell-shocked and slumping Edmonton Oilers, who went to bed on a 4-3 loss to Minnesota and woke up in ninth place.

They're supposed to be beyond this, above this, having to spend the stretch drive scrambling for their lives.

Clearly, they are not.

"We knew (ninth place) was coming after last game," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose club fell apart in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota, much like it did in a 4-3 loss to Columbus and a 5-2 embarrassment in San Jose.

"We have to dust ourselves off."

Dust? It's hard to dust off muck, which is what they're covered in after the hat-trick of face plants. With a 2-5-3 record in their last 10 games, allowing 41 goals against in that span, they've gone from a team that had its sights set on winning the division to a team that might not make the playoffs.

LUCKY TO BE THAT HIGH

Ninth? The way they've been coughing up games, they're lucky to be that high.

"We're letting points slip away and it's the time of year where you can't let that happen," said defenceman Chris Pronger.

"We have to right the ship quickly before we find ourselves so far on the outside that we're not able to bounce back."

Pronger senses what everybody else does, that the Oilers are playing scared. They've been tied or had a third-period lead in every game this road trip and let them all slip away.

"It boils down to having that confidence that things are going to get done, that air within the team," he said.

"Right now, we get a lead and it's like we're just waiting for that mistake or penalty or bad bounce to happen, and you can't play the game that way."

Some of the anxiety might come from the fact that instead of being the saviour everyone had hoped, netminder Dwayne Roloson has been a big part of the problem.

LITTLE DEFENSIVE HELP

He hasn't had much time to get acclimatized, nor much help from his defence, and isn't getting credit for some of the big saves he has made. But there's no hiding from 13 goals against in three games.

"I feel bad for Rollie, I think he's played well," said GM Kevin Lowe, chalking a lot of the last three games up to rust, bad breaks and bad defence.

"Last game, a lot of people would question the third goal (short side high), but he was screened on the play. That's just guys trying too hard instead of letting the goalie make the save.

"He made some great saves (in San Jose), the type of saves that could win us a hockey game. But it was probably our worst game as a team, particularly on defence, all season long. Three on ones, two on ones. Not a great way for him to start."

Columbus wasn't a great way to finish, either, but Lowe chalks up the collision with Marc-Andre Bergeron that left Roloson flopping around on the OT winner from a bad angle, to bad luck.

RUNS HIM OVER

"That's a case of two players trying to get used to each other. Bergie runs him over and he never gets set in the net.

"Those are plays that if it goes a little different you end up getting the win.

"We have to start playing better defensively. Up until the last few games we had the second fewest shots against in the league.

"We had 30 last night, and 30-plus in Columbus and San Jose. We have to dial in our game, that's forwards and defence together."

Another year, another stretch drive crisis.

"We've been through this before and we're going to get out of it," said Raffi Torres. "It's just a matter of how and when."

Here and now would be good.

"We've created a dogfight for ourselves, but it's not anything we're uncomfortable with. We've been through it for a number of years," said Lowe.

"I'm totally confident this team will find a way to start winning hockey games again.

"We're just going through a tough time confidence-wise.

"It's sort of similar to the start of the year when we lost seven in a row and everybody was wanting to jump off the wagon.

"It took a little while for the team to put things together. That's what we're hoping for. We've seen over the first 65 games what this team is capable of."


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