Halloween horrors

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

COLUMBUS -- It has become an all-too-familiar ritual in Edmonton: the annual Oilers collapse.

Like swallows returning to Capistrano in early spring, the chokers return to Edmonton in early winter.

Last year it was seven straight losses in October. The year before that there was a 2-5 stretch.

The year before that, they won one of their first 10. In 2001 they went five in a row without a win. And the year before that it was two wins in their first 10.

And once again, these migratory birds have headed south in the standings, thanks to a four-game losing streak and one measly win in their last seven starts.

"For some reason this team seems to go through something like this every year,'' said Shawn Horcoff, the poster boy for Edmonton's swoon. "You'd think with the maturity and experience we picked up as a core group, we wouldn't have to do that anymore.''

You'd think.

But the last few weeks have make it abundantly clear that the Oilers haven't quite overcome their penchant for Perdita Felicien-like starts.

"There's no way to protect a performance like that with a bunch of excuses,'' said head coach Craig MacTavish, refusing to blame fatigue for the latest downed hurdle, a 3-0 loss in which Detroit outshot Edmonton 14-0 in the first period and 28-3 through 33 minutes.

"We were bad. We were really bad. When you play like that against a team that's at the top of its game, you get humiliated.''

As a Stanley Cup finalist, they were supposed to be above this, crawling around on all fours, searching for their game like it was a lost contact lens. But instead of positioning themselves for another run, they're making last year look like a fluke.

As it stands right now, all the people who said the Oilers are nothing without Chris Pronger are looking awfully bright. And all of the people, most of them searching the floor of that dressing room right now, who said they'd be fine without him have some explaining to do.

"We know we're better than this,'' said Raffi Torres, he of the two goals in 14 games. "Guys like myself are not doing what we're supposed to be doing out there. It's like we're waiting for other guys to step up when, really, it's guys like me that need to be stepping up to help us get out of this. We're not a team that's supposed to lose four in a row.''

If you are MacTavish, what do you do when most of your best players are folding at once? Bench Horcoff, Torres, Fernando Pisani and Joffrey Lupul, who's been virtually invisible five-on-five?

"It's some pretty complex issues for the coaching staff so far, ones that I don't know I've had the last number of years,'' said MacTavish. "Some of our real core guys are lacking confidence. Do you take the ice away, give him more, sit him down. How do you get him out of it?''

When Pronger was here, he made that first quick pass out of the zone to alleviate pressure and send his forwards on the attack with speed. Now they get hemmed in their own zone if you look at them funny.

"He's the best in the league at getting the puck to players at the exact right time, down to the 16th of a second he'll hold it,'' said MacTavish. "We don't have that, we know that, so we have to make adjustments. Maybe that means we have to be a little grittier as forwards on the wall, make a couple of plays and help our defence out from time to time.''

Or keep going like they are, and be lumped in with the rest of those Cup final Cinderella stories who dried up and blew away the following season.

"We know we have a problem right now and we're trying to fix it,'' said Jarret Stoll. "If we don't, this thing will just get worse.''


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