SUN Hockey Pool

In real trouble

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

DENVER -- The ability to forget is vital to the psychological well-being of any team.

A big mistake or a costly loss can haunt them like a ghost, destroying their confidence and tormenting their souls until the mistakes get bigger, the losses more costly and it's too late to make things right.

The Edmonton Oilers, for no other reason than necessity, have become masters of the short memory. In stretch drives past, when a devastating loss was supposed to be the end of them, they'd just pretend it didn't happen. By the next morning they'd have shrugged it off and found a way to get back in the race.

EVEN KEEL

You know the mantra: Never get too high, or too low.

This time it's different. The dark cloud and sombre mood that hung over the dressing room after Thursday's weak and telling loss in Vancouver didn't go away overnight.

They're in trouble and they know it. And they have to know now, if they didn't before, that this team isn't nearly as good as the ones that rallied from the grave before.

So deep are the mental wounds, so dire is the predicament, the coaching staff cancelled practice and shut the dressing room doors for the final team meeting of the year. I say final because if anything that happens between now and April dictates the need for another one, the season will already been lost.

If it's not already.

"Just to clear the air and refocus," captain Jason Smith said of the gathering, in which players and coaches all had their say. "It's a crucial time right now."

"A lot of guys got things off their chest," added Shawn Horcoff.

You don't have to be a fly on the wall to know what they were talking about. They're in real trouble.

Only a couple losses away from sewering their season before February is a week old.

It's not the six points they trail eighth place Minnesota by that's so intimidating, it's the 40 points they'll need out of their final 30 games that should have everyone spooked.

Over the last four years, the eighth place team in the West finished with between 91 and 95 points. The Oilers have 54, with 30 games left. Do the math.

"I'm sure we'll probably need that many (94), or more," said Smith.

"To point to an exact number would be tough, but we have to play better than we have."

A team that hasn't won three in a row since the first week of December must now win 20 of its final 30 - in a grind that includes six- and seven-game road trips.

Gulp.

"We need to turn it around and put a good stretch of games together or it is going to be too late," said Smith.

"We have to start filling the hole in and not dig any deeper. I think we have the belief and the commitment to do that."

They've done it before, riding that short memory of theirs to valiant, well-documented charges in the past.

But this team hasn't shown any real heart in two months. It can't win in its own division (1-9 in the last 10), can't beat teams ahead of it in the standings (two wins in its last 14 tries), and of its last eight victories, six came against Columbus, L.A., Anaheim (without Pronger and Giguere), Florida, L.A. and Phoenix.

Jarret Stoll has concussion trouble, Steve Staios is playing hurt. This year, more than any other, it doesn't look good.

IS A TRADE WORTH IT?

And even if Kevin Lowe can find a puck-moving defenceman, would it be enough?

Would it even be worth it, given the 52-game evidence, to mortgage any aspect of the Oilers' future for rent-a-player help in playoffs that probably aren't coming?

"I still feel we have the guys to do it," said Horcoff, who isn't ready to give up yet.

"Once you lose your belief, it's never going to happen. But we have to do it now."

Or they can forget about it.


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