SUN Hockey Pool

Treading water nicely

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

DENVER -- They're trying to keep their heads above water.

The closer the Edmonton Oilers can stay to the surface, the better off they'll be when the cavalry arrives.

"This is a real important stretch for us right now and we've survived it to this point," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"The next few games are really critical, we don't want to have to play catch-up from too far behind. It's important that we continue to play well, then you can analyze the benefit of all these guys going down through these injuries - the development of (Tom) Gilbert, the development of (Denis) Grebeshkov and the minutes they've had to play.

"Then when you get everybody healthy you're a lot further ahead than the last time you had everybody healthy."

The Oilers head into tonight's encounter with the Colorado Avalanche three games under the break-even point. Heading into the contest, they've won two straight and three of their last four.

SCRATCHED AND CLAWED

"We've scratched and clawed to get where we are now," said winger Dustin Penner. "It hasn't been easy and I think we've shown a lot of character as a group to get back to the playoff picture.

"The way we're playing five-on-five now, we're comfortable against any team. We just have to stay out of the penalty box because that kills our momentum and we can't keep doing that."

As much as the Oilers are struggling, the rest of the Northwest Division isn't exactly lighting things up. Heading into last night's play only five points separated the five teams in the division.

By winning their third consecutive game, the Oilers would be right back in the mix.

"In today's game, given the set of circumstances (winning three straight) would be a decent accomplishment for us," said MacTavish. "More importantly it would just keep the momentum and our confidence up.

"Roli (Dwayne Roloson) has come in and played two real good games for us and we definitely need that to continue. You're not going to survive a bunch of injuries with mediocre goaltending, you have to get exceptional goaltending and that's what we've got and that's why we've been able to survive it in the last little while."

With the rash of injuries that have plagued the Oilers this season, the team has struggled to remain consistent. They have only won two consecutive games on three different occasions this year and have yet to put a three-game win streak together.

But with victories over the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets they have a chance to do that.

"In a sense we've been treading water until some of those guys get back," Penner said. "We need to get guys like Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray, Matt Greene and Fernando (Pisani) back in the lineup."

At the moment, the player which looks closest to returning is, surprisingly, Pisani. He may be back as soon as next week after missing all the season so far battling colitis.

Yesterday Moreau had the fracture on his foot looked at by doctors but is still at least two weeks away. The Oilers captain has yet to suit up this year and tonight marks the 100th straight regular-season game Moreau has missed. He injured his shoulder early last season and missed the whole year.

If the Oilers can stay within striking distance while they try to get everyone back in the lineup, they should be in a good position to make a strong case of a playoff spot in the second half of the season.

"We didn't start very well in October and in November we've poked away at .500," said MacTavish. "Given all the injuries that we've had, I would take going through November at .500 and we're there right now and we're hoping to improve on that."

STRUGGLES AGAINST AVS

Just beating the Avalanche would be an improvement. The Oilers have lost all three previous meetings this season - twice in regulation and once in a shootout.

"Winning three straight would be a pretty big step in the right direction," said Oilers winger Dustin Penner.

"I think the way we've been playing lately we have a really good chance. I think we're not really concentrating on this streak, we're just concentrating on the next game.

"That's how you get to those long streaks is just thinking about the next one."


Videos

Photos