FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- This road trip was supposed to be a fork in the road for the Edmonton Oilers.
Not a fork in the Oilers.
But the way they've bungled the first four games of their Bottom of the Barrel Tour makes you wonder if they're done.
Four straight games against Southeast division opponents was supposed to yield a heck of a lot more than one win, wasn't it? More than one line going on any given night? More than searching for positives in the disappointing aftermath of supposedly winnable games.
"You try and think that everything is going to be all right, but time is going fast," said winger Ales Hemsky, as frustrated as anyone with Edmonton's trip so far. "Maybe some things are going good, but it's not good enough. We have to play like a team. If we want to win some games, everybody has to play good, not just a couple of guys, or just a goalie."
They've got one chance left, tonight against the Florida Panthers, to try and salvage a 2-2-1 record on this nine-day exercise in inconsistency, but for a team that needs to play about .700 down the stretch, there is genuine concern they've let a season-altering opportunity slip by.
"I'm worried, yeah," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose team needs its season altered more than most. "What I'm worried about is that we run out of time. We're getting healthy and we're getting things developing, but we're squandering opportunities like we did (against Tampa). I'm worried that we get going, which I fully expect us to, and then we run out of time, finish about a week early."
Sometimes you can see his point, and sometimes it looks like they wouldn't make the playoffs if there were 100 games left, not 31.
Their first line has been great and the Kid Line is producing like a second line should. And all their defencemen are finally healthy.
But just when it looks like they might be putting together, the multiple personality disorder that's been sewering them all year drags them back into the gutter. Win three in a row. Lose six in a row. Beat Calgary. Lose to LA. Get hammered by Carolina. Dominate Atlanta.
All the while, they remain between five and seven points out of eighth, close enough to touch, but just out of reach. The standings say they're still alive. Their game says no chance.
"We're in perpetual limbo," said MacTavish. "We're not moving backward and we're not moving forward. Everybody knows we have to put together a streak. Everybody knows that we bought ourselves some time to put together the streak - what's lacking is the streak.
"But I've seen enough recently in the way that we've played that we're going to get it together. I see good things happening down the road here pretty quickly."
They all seem to think that their run is just around the corner. They have to, of course, otherwise you can get that fork ready.
"We're at the point now where if we go in and win this game, the trip's not looking so bad," said captain Ethan Moreau, who doesn't want anyone in the dressing room thinking they're out of it. "Being positive and trying to keep the energy high is huge right now."
Despite some of the poorly timed losses on this trip.
"The league is so close now that we're not going to go into Tampa and dominate," said Moreau.
"They have some world-class players.
"We have to play, not a perfect game, but at our best to beat anybody. Some things didn't go right, but it wasn't a horrible game by any means."
They're like the golfer who has the driver going one day, but not the putter. Or the irons working and not the woods. He either gets it together, or finally comes to realize he's just not that good.
Which are they?
"We have the right intangibles, it's just a matter of doing it on a consistent basis," said Fernando Pisani. "Try and build momentum and keep it going. Fairly soon.
"You don't want to focus too much on (the standings). But at the same time, time is running out and we have to be aware of that."