SUN Hockey Pool

State of union address

Oilers' Dustin Penner is dejected as the Red Wings celebrate a goal earlier this season. (SUN MEDIA...

Oilers' Dustin Penner is dejected as the Red Wings celebrate a goal earlier this season. (SUN MEDIA FILE/Jason Franson)

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

DENVER -- The Edmonton Oilers had a little heart-to-heart yesterday.

Head coach Craig MacTavish gathered the troops during practice and spoke to them for around 20 minutes.

The message was clear. They need more from everybody in order to save their sinking ship.

"We just have to simplify our game, everyone has to get into predictable spots and do what you do best," MacTavishsaid. "That pretty much summarizes it."

Heading into tonight's game against the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers are looking up at the rest of their Northwest Division opponents.

LEAKING OIL

They've given up the most goals in the conference, scored the second fewest, have the worst power play in the league and have lost three straight.

They're dealing with a lot of issues here, some of which were aired yesterday.

"It was just kind of a state of the union as far as where we're at, where we need to be and what we need to do going forward," said Oilers forward Marty Reasoner.

"It's pretty obvious we need to make some changes in a lot of our games and I think it's a situation where he (MacTavish) is getting us to re-evaluate what we're doing individually and what we can do to turn this around."

This is not where the Oilers envisioned they'd be this season. With a number of key acquisitions the team was supposed to help forget the nightmare that saw them win just two of their last 20 games last season.

Yet they only have five wins in their first 15 games this season - three of which have come in a shootout - and they are 1-6 against divisional opponents.

"I think it just comes down to individual guys," Reasoner said. "We have to look at ourselves and ask 'what can I do better?' I think there's a lot of guys on this team that feel we can do a lot more.

"Even if we're not scoring and not contributing offensively, we can at least play hard in other areas and that's something that's lacking."

Granted, the injury bug which plagued the Oilers last season has struck again this year.

Two of the team's biggest off-season acquisitions on the blue-line - Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen - are out.

Their most physical defenceman, Matt Greene, broke his foot. And their captain Ethan Moreau has yet to play a game this year.

"Sure we have a lot of injuries and it makes a difference in your lineup and we have a young team," said Oilers defenceman Steve Staios. "It's easy to come up with excuses, but that's not going to help us any. We want to be constructive and find ways to win games.

"We're going to start (tonight), by bringing more energy and more physical play, and if we do that, we're confident that we're going to have a good game (tonight)."

There's no doubt the Oilers are a work in progress. They were the second-youngest team going into the season, and that was with Souray, Moreau and Pitkanen in the lineup.

The have the youngest player in the league in Sam Gagner, who has cooled down since getting off to an impressive start.

GAGNER HAS SLOWED DOWN

The 18-year-old rookie doesn't have a point in his last six games after collecting seven in his first eight.

"I always believe that we have it in here to win," MacTavish said. "If we go out there (tonight) and play a good game, we win. It's up to us. I've never been a guy that's questioned our ability to win.

"I know that we're good enough to win and if we go out there and execute at a high level, we're going to win."

That was the message passed on yesterday.

"Coaches have different tactics to get us going to play and I think today was a great discussion we had out there," Staios said.

"It's a time to just get back to basics and trying to understand what's going to make this successful.

"We talked about that and we think everybody has to get it through their heads that we have to play a simpler game, play with more energy and be more physical. We'll start with that (tonight) and build on that."


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