No Oilers grace period

Brad Winchester yawns during an Edmonton Oilers practice at the Millennium Place arena in Sherwood...

Brad Winchester yawns during an Edmonton Oilers practice at the Millennium Place arena in Sherwood Park Thursday afternoon. (Edmonton Sun/David Bloom)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

When you've been playing like mutts for more than a month, dragging your butts through the dog days of the hockey season is not an option.

Five points out of a playoff position with 32 games to go, the Edmonton Oilers return from the all-star break knowing they can't wait for spring, they have to do it now.

"These are usually the dog days of the season but when you've put yourself in this scenario, you need to get it going now," said assistant coach Craig Simpson as the season re-boots for Game 49 against the San Jose Sharks here tonight.

Been there. Done that.

Back there. Gotta do it again. It's an annual column, isn't it?

MacTavish's teams seem to specialize in mid-season slumps followed by death-defying drives down the stretch to try to catch a final playoff position.

"We've been in this position before, seemingly every year," said Simpson.

"At times we've been successful and at times we've fallen short."

IMPROBABLE RUN

To finish where they did last year before they made their improbable run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, they're likely going to have to play .667 hockey the rest of the way.

"It's a really important time, that's for sure," said captain Jason Smith after a practice yesterday sans all-star Ryan Smyth and young star Ladislav Smid, who were returning from Dallas.

"We haven't got the results we wanted up to now. We've had time to regroup, recharge and refocus and we have to put a good streak together now."

Maybe it's as simple as getting goaltending again. The Oilers, since the lockout, have been as good as their goaltending.

The Oilers need Dwayne Roloson to get a hot hand again like he did when he had a six-game winning streak with a career high 1.48 goals against average and .950 save percentage early in the season.

On Nov. 2.8, Roloson had a 12-6-1 record with a 2.24 goals against average and a 9.26 save percentage.

Since then, his record has been 8-12-3 with a 3.09 goals against average and an .889 save percentage. The difference in those numbers is the difference between a first-rate starting goaltender and being a good back-up.

It's a what-have-you-done-for-us-lately business and it's getting late.

But keeping them out of one net is only half the story here.

The Oilers have to start getting all those goals we all figured we'd see them score this season.

NEED MORE GOALS

Eight 20-goal scorers were projected. Four - Ryan Smyth (23), Petr Sykora (17), Jarret Stoll (13) and Joffrey Lupul (13) - are on pace. The other four - Fernando Pisani (9), Shawn Horcoff (8), Raffi Torres (8) and Ales Hemsky (7) - are going to have to have big finishes.

"We need Ales to be a big part of our success," said Simpson of Hemsky being a difference-maker like he was so often later in the season last year.

Stoll has been outstanding and is back, healthy, after having a minor concussion leading into the break.

"He's been a big impact this year. When Jarret is out, you miss him on the power play and the faceoff circle." said Simpson.

And about that power play, Simmer.

Twenty-seventh on the power-play is where the Oilers ended up going into the break. That isn't going to do it if they're going to get there again.

The schedule has the Oilers playing 14 games against currently-out-of-the-playoff teams and 13 divisional games, including five of their last 19 against the Minnesota Wild. There's room to do what they have to do. But there's no waiting now.

"Coming back from the all-star break, it all hits home now," said Horcoff.

"There are not that many games left. Our period of grace, if you want to call it that, is over."

Period of grace? There's a period of grace?


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