SUN Hockey Pool

Going nowhere -- fast

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Hard to watch. Easy to play.

Those aren't the kind of calling cards any team wants attached to its logo, but they couldn't describe the Oilers fruitless state of flux more perfectly.

Stuck between the team they want to be -- a highly-skilled, high-offence attack -- and the team they used to be -- a band of relentless blue-collar mongrels who were short on talent and long on tenacity -- the Oilers don't do anything particularly well right now.

They can't beat anyone with their ferocity and grit, seeing as they don't have any, and their talent pool isn't deep or consistent enough to rely on, either.

Not enough skill. Not enough will.

"We've been making that shift," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who used to wish his club had better hands, not bigger hearts.

"Back in those days we talked about not having the skill to win the games. We needed to inject a superior skill level (this year), and a lot of times that comes at the expense of your grit. You have to have a power game."

They don't. They don't have any intensity. They don't have an edge. They don't score goals. Playing them is like playing in an all-star game, without any all-stars.

"It's definitely a concern," said captain Ethan Moreau, in a dressing room that's still smarting from Tuesday's 3-0 loss to San Jose, in which the Oilers pulled the chutes and were outshot 39-13.

"We don't have enough up front now, we don't have enough forecheck, we don't have enough physical play. We're just not hard enough at either end of the rink ."

The Oilers anticipated a sag in offence while the likes of Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano matured, but this whole lack of spunk thing wasn't in the plan.

They expected Zack Stortini and J.F. Jacques to bookend a rambunctious energy line. They expected Raffi Torres to show up every night. And they expected Moreau, Matt Green and Sheldon Souray to stay healthy.

None if it happened. And the remaining third and fourth line players, and some of their defencemen, haven't taken it upon themselves to pick up the slack.

"We thought we'd have enough toughness," said MacTavish. "We know how important toughness is to have success."

And how ineffective a team full of tweeners -- guys who aren't getting points and aren't bringing any grit to the game --can be.

Maybe, if Kevin Lowe's master plan ever materializes, they'll intimidate opponents with their goal scoring ability, but right now they're an easy mark.

"Guys are going to have to change their game a little bit to fill the void," said Moreau. "Everybody can do it. We don't have many guys who are going to get 80 points this year, so if you're not going to produce (offensively), you need some physical play and some forecheck."

The character and hunger that Moreau talks about have been missing all too frequently this year.

In the last two weeks alone they no-showed against Los Angeles, Carolina and San Jose. Three times in seven games isn't acceptable for any team, let alone one that knows it has to play .700 down the stretch to even have a sniff at the playoffs.

Fans are asking questions about this team that they never used to ask. Questions about heart and hunger.

Nobody is going to make those fair questions go away but the players in the dressing room.

"It's up to us," said defenceman Steve Staios. "In this room we have to prove to each other and ourselves that that isn't the team we are, that we have a lot more to offer."

"You have to take it personally," added Moreau. "We have to take a little of that into our next game, be a little bit angry and mad, try to prove something against Dallas."


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