Nashing teeth over trip

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- A team that's 0-3 in its last three road games going out on a seven-game trip to straighten things out is like a fat guy going to a cake factory to lose weight.

And starting that trip -- desperately needing to end your slump and generate positive momentum -- in a place where they beat you for fun isn't exactly the way you'd draw it up on paper, either.

But the Oilers are here in Nashville to try and change their luck, which is pretty much the NHL equivalent of the U.S. trying to wash the bad taste of Iraq from its mouth by going back to Vietnam.

"This comes at a good time for us," lied centre Shawn Horcoff, trying to put a positive spin on the very daunting challenge that faces them. "It's going to be a big test. We haven't had that much success on the road so far."

No, they haven't. So this is hardly the best-case scenario for Craig MacTavish and his sputtering Oilers right now, but it's the only scenario they have. Fourteen days on the road. Seven games. Three sets of back-to-backs.

Starting with a team and a town that have never treated them well.

"The way things have been going lately, we have to treat this for what it is: A crucial time of the year for us," defenceman Steve Staios said before the Oilers boarded their flight for Tennessee.

"Sometimes, you have these situations in mid-season, or late in the season. Ours is right now. Now is the time for this team to push each other and hold ourselves to the expectations we have for each other."

For team that already has four straight losses in the bank, this is a nervous piece of business they're heading into.

"There's a few paths we can take on this trip, and certainly there's a couple that we don't want to take," said MacTavish, adding it's no stretch to say this stretch, which amounts to almost 10% of their schedule, could make or break their whole season.

"It could. Extremes both ways could define the season. You go in and have a great trip and come back quite a few games above .500 would be a pretty good position to be in."

Take one of the other paths he spoke of and they're suddenly 10 or 12 points under water.

"The first two or three games are going to be big for us," said Horcoff. "Especially when you're playing seven games, and three sets of back-to-back. That's almost like double punishment. I don't think I've ever seen a schedule like this as long as I've been in the league.

"But the good thing about back-to-backs is if you're playing well, you can get on a roll, things carry over into the next night."

The bad thing is it's hard to regain momentum (not that the Oilers are coming in with any) on the road. And it's next to impossible to do it in the second game of back-to-back road games.

"In the past, when we've been on trips like this, we've played well, but we haven't won," said MacTavish. "You're in every game, but you don't find a way to win. That cuts away at your confidence. So it's important that we get off to a good start and get some more confidence in the group."

Enter the Predators. And you have to wonder if some of the Oilers made like Indiana Jones when he looked into the pit of snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark and muttered to themselves: Nashville. Why did it have to be Nashville?

Edmonton is winless in its last five visits here and winless in its last eight games against the Predators overall. And it hasn't really been close -- the Preds outscored them 35-16 in the 8-0 run.

Welcome to the road trip.

"It's really a true test of your team's makeup and character to see how you come out of it," said Staios.


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