SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers slip, slip, sliding

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

They don't give out two points for moral victories.

And leading the league in well-played losses doesn't get you anything but a spot in the cellar and a lottery pick in the draft - unless you're the Oilers, who'll be handing their choice over to Anaheim this June.

So the youngest and most injury-ravaged team in the NHL will have to do a lot more over the next six games than search for silver linings in dark clouds of defeat.

Or their season will be over by the end of November.

Too early for The End Is Near? Guess again.

They're already stuck in last place overall and in order to sneak into eighth in the West they'll have to leapfrog Vancouver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Anaheim, Calgary and Nashville. If any one of those teams puts up better numbers than the Oilers in the final 62 games, it's over.

Or, look at it this way: it took 96 points to make the playoffs last year. Edmonton needs 85 more to reach that total, which translates into 42-19-1 from here on in, give or take a few OT and shootout losses.

SCARY TO THINK ABOUT

It's scary when you think about it, so the Oilers don't.

"That doesn't serve anybody any purpose to worry about that right now," said head coach Craig MacTavish, asked about the season getting away from them this early. "We're focused pretty intensely on the short term, which is how we're going to try and win the game on Saturday night (in Calgary), rather than worrying about the long term picture - because the long-term picture is pretty bleak if we don't turn the short-term picture around."

Indeed. A few more well-played losses and it's last year all over again, only the funeral march is 60 games long instead of 20.

"This can't go on for much longer," said rookie Andrew Cogliano, one of three Oilers' freshmen in the top seven in team scoring. "Even though we're playing well and doing things right, we need to find a way to win.

"The excuse of guys being injured, we can't be using that. For now we just have to get the wins."

So short-term focus it is, starting tomorrow in Calgary and continuing for five in a row against Northwest opponents, who are 7-1 against Edmonton.

CRITICAL TIME

"We've all earmarked this as a very critical time," said MacTavish, whose 5-10-1 Oilers have lost four in a row.

"If we can poke around .500 in the next couple of weeks, we'll be in pretty good shape to make a run when we get some bodies back."

Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen are still a week to 10 days away from returning, and who knows what's going on with Ethan Moreau, who went from questionable for the Oct. 4 season opener to having a cast put on his leg a month later.

Point is, they have to turn it around themselves, before the cavalry comes back.

They've been playing better recently, but some soft goaltending and rookie mistakes on the back end, not always from the rookies, undid the good and left them with nothing but those silver linings.

In the meantime, MacTavish is stuck in No Man's Land. He can't rip his his players for lack of effort because they're playing hard, and he can't pat them on the back for a job well done because they're not winning. And he can't preach patience until the team gets healthy because they're just a few losses away from extinction.


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