Slump busting 101

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

COLUMBUS -- If you build it they will come, and if you doubt it you will lose.

Those are the golden rules when creating a field of dreams or escaping a nightmarish slump - take it from some guys who know a thing or two about navigating the dark, troubled waters of futility.

On a five-game losing streak with six games left to play on their road trip, the Edmonton Oilers looked like they were starting out on a death march that would sewer their season by mid-November.

Then, as suddenly as the losing started, it stopped. Back-to-back wins over Carolina and Philadelphia helped them sidestep a complete disaster.

How did they right the ship? Good question.

"When a slump gets to four or five, that's a lot of games to lose in a row," said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau. "That's when you need veterans making sure everybody has the right mind-set because if you don't it can get pretty ugly. No matter how bad it is, it can always get worse."

It's been a season of fits and starts for the Oilers - four straight wins, followed by five straight losses, followed by two straight wins. Momentum swings are clearly a factor, so knowing how to stay on the right side of them is crucial.

And not getting sucked into the vortex of gloom when you've lost four or five in a row is vital to survival.

"When you're losing, you want to reel it in as fast as you can," said Fernando Pisani. "But if it doesn't happen, you can't get down, you can't get negative or you end up feeling like you're trying to skate uphill, fighting every stride, fighting every puck and every pass. You have to make sure you still keep a positive attitude coming to the rink or you're never going to get out of it."

Easier said than done when every pass seems a little off and every shot that's heading for a corner hits the post, and all you hear all day is how bad you are, and all anyone with a microphone or notepad wants to know is why the hockey club is such a terrible mess.

"You have to be mentally strong," said Pisani. "It's obviously part of the game for people to ask questions, but you have to be strong enough mentally to put that behind you and correct what you need to correct.

"We have the mentality in that dressing room that no matter the situation, we don't get down on ourselves."

As tempted as a coach is to crack the whip after a few losses, he must be careful not to make the situation worse.

"As a coach you want to increase the pressure as the losses pile up, but at the same time you don't want your players tight - it's a fine line to walk," said Craig MacTavish. "There are a few things you have to have every night, which is the effort and the smarts. And you try and rationalize the rest, the things you can't control."

Why does a guy shoot 84 at the golf course one day and 94 at the same course the next? A couple of bad breaks, a little doubt creeps in and boom, you suck. It can be the same in hockey.

"It's a product of the NHL right now," said MacTavish. "There's probably four or five very elite teams out of 30, and there's a bunch of us who are looped together and on any given night a break either way can turn it. If you're playing with some confidence you're going to win hockey games and if you're lacking some confidence it's enough to swing the game."

They say experiences like these - how to deal with a slump and how to work your way out of one - are good lessons for all the younger players in the room.

"They see how you react in the dressing room," said Pisani. "If they see that we're not getting down on guys and making a difficult situation worse, then young guys will see this is how it works, this is what it means to be a professional."


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