Oiler crisis!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

It was early afternoon on New Year's Day and there was no light in the concourse where Craig MacTavish does his post-practice interviews.

"Ah, let's do it in the dark," he said.

"It fits the mood right now."

It was a cruel yule.

Normally the coach would have given his players New Year's Day off. But this is a team that suffered a fourth straight loss the night before in Calgary and now has six losses in its last seven games.

The Oilers went from third place in the conference to being an out-of-a-playoff-position team between turkey dinners.

It's easy to write a "What's Wrong With The Oilers" column right now.

"It's everything, just everything,'' concedes the coach.

Fans will be screaming soon for GM Kevin Lowe to forget patience and proceed to panic to get a defenceman and make a shake-up-the-team trade.

But MacTavish, for his part, was on the ice spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with players one-on-one instead of walking down the hall to tell the GM to blow things up.

To MacTavish, the sky is not falling.

To him it's the Annual Mid-Season Crisis.

LOST NINE OF 13

Last year the Oilers went into Christmas in first in the division and lost nine of their next 13.

"We were first at Christmas, played Minnesota twice at home right after Christmas and it took a month to find ourselves again," remembered MacTavish.

"I've been through one of these things twice a year every year I've been in the NHL," he said.

"The one thing they all have in common is that the one you're in looks like the one you're never going to get out of."

There's no understating the way the wheels have fallen off his hockey team.

The defence is running around in its own end with its head cut off and Dwayne Roloson is starting to look more like the Ty Conklin who replaced him in goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final than the guy who took the Oilers there last year. The Oilers are 1-7 in Roloson's last eight games and Roli the Goalie has a 4.0 goals against average.

The Oilers need a big save right now as bad as Roloson needs to hose down the fire drill going on in front of him.

The team has given up 20 goals in the last three games at home going into tonight's test against the Florida Panthers. Joffrey Lupul is a minus-17 and Shawn Horcoff minus-15. Petr Sykora has gone missing. Jason Smith lately looks a lot more like Leaf fans remember him than what we've watched of his career here. Marc-Andre Bergeron's heebie-jeebies are back. Raffi Torres is running out of time to discover any consistency. And does anybody know whatever happened to that terrific kid from Norway, Patrick Thoresen?

The Oilers battled through the loss of Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth, keeping their place in the standings, only to come unglued upon their return from injury.

"I don't completely understand that mentality, but it happens," said MacTavish of teams letting down when players return.

MOSTLY MENTAL

"It's definitely not those two," he said of Hemsky, whom he describes as "playing the best hockey of his career right now," and Smyth, who scored his 18th and 19th goals of the year in Calgary.

To MacTavish, what we're dealing with here is mostly mental.

"Our problems are a little more complicated than a little more focus and a little more intensity," said the coach.

"The fundamental flaw is that we're killing ourselves with five-star errors.

"When you go through phases like this you lose your flow, you become static because so many times you are not trusting your instincts.

"It's a mental conundrum. You have to get back to trusting yourself, get back to having confidence in decision-making."

MacTavish talks about conundrums.

The way it is in the Northwest Division, it's too early to panic. But next week may be too late.


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