SUN Hockey Pool

Dead men walking

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

One by one, the Edmonton Oilers filed out of the dressing room after practice yesterday and left for the airport, nearly all of them dressed head-to-toe in black.

Basic black has long been the durable, versatile staple of any extended road trip in the NHL - goes with anything, doesn't show every little stain - but this time it's especially fitting.

What else are you going to wear to a funeral march?

With nothing to play for, and six road games left to play, that's exactly what this is: a badly injured and fatally flawed hockey team wandering off to die.

All that remains to be seen now is whether it does so quietly, or goes down swinging.

"You can always make the mistake in this business of thinking it can't get worse, and it always does when you think that," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose club has one win in its last 14 games, and would rather not see that string of futility extended to one-for-20.

"We have to come out and practise hard and play hard, otherwise it's going to be two weeks of hell. It's already going to be bad enough without making it worse."

With games in Nashville, Minnesota (twice) and Calgary on this trip (combined home records 82-19-4-6), there's every chance it could get ugly. But the way things are going, it's probably to everyone's advantage that the team has left town. MacTavish doesn't feel a need to subject Edmonton to the Oilers anymore than Edmonton needs to see them.

"I'm glad we're done at home," he admitted. "We're getting a little healthier and that will improve our game immensely, but at the same time, those fans couldn't keep that type of (positive) momentum much longer, I don't think."

Nor would they have been expected to.

How the Oilers look from here on in is Nashville's problem, and St. Louis's and Chicago's. Not Edmonton's.

There's no way to make things right with Edmonton. A six-game win streak wouldn't even come close. Nothing they do over the next 13 days will erase the awful taste from the mouths of their fans.

All the players can do is try to pull something out of the ruins to ease their own misery.

"Any time you play you want to win, especially when things haven't been going that well for us," said Joffrey Lupul.

"It makes no difference what the standings say, you want to get some wins to feel good about yourself.

"It's important to use it as a building block for next year. It would be nice to finish with a couple of good games, especially on the road. A lot of us are just looking for something positive going into next season. Everyone has something to play for."

If not, then, like MacTavish said, things can always get worse.

"It's the NHL, so you have to prepare the same way," said Petr Sykora. "It isn't going to be easy, you don't want to get embarrassed. There are some tough games out there. We have to go out and play hard and get a couple of wins because this kind of sucks lately, to be honest."

No disputing that.

"We just want to make sure we're in every game, be competitive," said winger Raffi Torres. "Not just roll over and die."


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