SUN Hockey Pool

Down, if not out

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

If the Edmonton Oilers lose again tonight, some enterprising bookie might give you better odds on the Edmonton Eskimos making the playoffs than the Oilers.

And the Eskimos have to win both their remaining games and have the Montreal Alouettes lose both of theirs.

The scary thing here is as we make the transition from covering one team to the other it feels like we're covering the same team.

Too many changes. Too many injuries. Too many mistakes. Confidence problems. Special teams disasters. Negative carry-over from the previous season. And a coach who says "you never, as a coach, want to get into a habit of rationalizing losses" and then goes on to rationalize the latest loss.

"This is exactly the start we didn't want to have," Oilers' coach Craig MacTavish admitted of his 3-6 hockey team yesterday.

"After the preseason there was a lot of optimism. And we started the season very well. Then we lost in Detroit and Minnesota, the confidence just seemed to disappear."

Veterans lose a couple of games and lose their confidence?

Is it that fragile?

"It appears to be right now," said MacTavish.

We're nine games into the season. There are 73 to go including tonight against the undefeated Minnesota Wild, which is like a trip to the dentist of this team, not to mention 16,839 other people.

And it's already time to write a 'What's Wrong With The Oilers?' column.

This is a town where virtually the entire population can tell you the Oilers are one-for-35 on their power play and last in the league in that department, that they've lost six of their last seven, are zero-for-five against teams in their own conference.

This is a town where most fans know Jarret Stoll and Ales Hemsky still haven't scored a goal and that Stoll's goes back to Jan. 10 since he last tickled the twine.

People know he's a minus seven, that Shawn Horcoff is a minus four.

I'm not sure they know that Stoll, Hemsky, Horcoff, Dustin Penner, Steve Staios, Geoff Sanderson, Marty Reasoner and injured Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen are a combined minus 22.

Nor am I sure if they know that rookies Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Kyle Brodziak and Tom Gilbert are a combined plus seven.

But the fans damn sure know the rookies are getting it done and the veterans aren't.

MacTavish has no reason to throw the babies out with the bathwater. The babies are going great. It's the ring around the tub that's the problem.

"There is enough scrutiny on first line players without us compounding that," he said.

"You need something to go well for you. You try to get them some confidence. We've had a lot of opportunity. We haven't had a lot of bounces around the net.

"Stoll and Hemsky are going to the right places. I'm happy with Ales's commitment to the team and going to the right areas. When I look at the video, he's going to the right spots and doing the right thing."

He said Stoll needs to go out and have a Tasmanian Devil kind of game.

"He needs to go out and play a reckless, desperate game and crash the net."

It's starting to look like the guys who were here late last year and won only two of their last 20 games, are still back there.

"The young guys weren't here. They don't know what it was like. We don't want to put them through that," said Horcoff.

The point is that some of these guys have won five of their last 29 games.

The players and coaches show up to the rink where most of the questions and story angles are already negative.

"You've got to have mental toughness," said MacTavish. "It's part of this business.

"There are a lot of legitimate ways the media can be critical over our lack of success so far. You have to understand it. You can't be debilitated by it. You have to take the criticism and accept the criticism."

With that in mind, it's about that power play, Craig.


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