SUN Hockey Pool

Coastal concerns

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

SANTA MONICA, California -- Tucked away for three days in a oceanside hotel, just 50 yards from the famed Santa Monica Pier and next door to the Hotel California, immortalized in the classic Eagles song, it would be easy for the Edmonton Oilers to forget their troubles and enjoy the sun.

Good, because the beleaguered bottom-dwellers have plenty of troubles to forget right now.

- A defence that was supposed to be their soft white underbelly has become exactly that.

- The questions surrounding Dwayne Roloson's ability to carry the load for 70 games have grown into concerns.

- The team has three wins and two OT/shootout losses in its last 13 games and has fallen to last place in a division where, if you don't win it, you might not make the playoffs.

If anyone needs to get away from it, it's them. But the respite is only two days long, then they're back at it for the second half of a season that has to be a whole lot better than the first if they're to avoid becoming a one-hit wonder that makes it to the final and is never heard from again.

"The general statement is we're playing very poorly," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose state of the union address sounded very much like most of his recent post-game interviews.

"All year long we haven't had all aspects of our game going.

"At one point the forwards were all struggling, but the defence was playing pretty well and the goaltending was good. Now the goaltending is average, the defence is struggling and the forwards are playing pretty well.

"To characterize how I'm feeling about our team right now ... We've got to get better," said MacTavish.

At least they're not delusional, trying to convince themselves that three wins out of first in the Northwest is still pretty good.

"We had a lot higher expectations for ourselves after what we accomplished last year," said Steve Staios. "At the same time I think we're still an elite team that has the potential to get there again."

OK, maybe they're a little delusional.

It's hard to consider them elite when it's been one month since they last won two games in a row.

"It's easy to second guess because of the way we've been playing,"said Staios. "But I'm confident that we're just going through the kind of tough stretch that everybody goes through, and this is the end of it."

The Oilers wrote the book on dreadful midseason slumps, and in every one of them it looked like they'd never win again, so it's not out of the realm to think they'll pull out of it and make their annual stretch-drive charge. Then again, it's not out of the realm to think the loss of Chris Pronger, Michael Peca and Jaroslav Spacek are simply too much to overcome, and this is the year the tailspin never ends.

"You can't think that way," said Fernando Pisani. "We're a good team, we know we're a good team, it's just one of those things where we make bad decisions at the wrong time and the next thing you know it's in the back of our net. It's frustrating, but the only way you can get out of it is being smarter and making better decisions on the ice."

As the trade deadline draws nearer, so does the hope that Kevin Lowe can patch the holes with rent-a-players like he did last season. But getting the right players might be easier said than done. Puck-moving defencemen that you only have to pay for two months are kind of a hot commodity.

"The cavalry, in today's NHL, is never coming,"said MacTavish. "So you'd better find ways to get it sorted out yourselves.

"I'm confident we have the personnel to do that. We have to get guys playing more consistently and making better decisions on the ice."

"We can't wait for people, we can't wait for trades," added Ryan Smyth, who, as the most consistent, hardest working player on the team, is about the only guy who doesn't have to pick his game up a notch. "We have to deal with it in here."


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