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DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

They've been wallowing in mediocrity all season.

Just when the Edmonton Oilers appear to be putting things together, they get dragged back down towards the .500 mark.

Heading into tonight's contest against the Vancouver Canucks, (8 p.m., GM Place) the Oilers are a game over the break-even point and fifth in the Northwest Division standings.

It's not exactly where they envisioned themselves at the start of the season come the Christmas break.

Yet through all the misery they have seemingly put their fans through, the Oilers are still within three points off a playoffs spot and nine out of the division lead. And, with 13 of their next 18 games at home, they are in a position to climb up the standings.

"We have to try to score more goals," said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert. "We also need to define how we're going to play at home. We've been inconsistent when it comes to our home games this year. We have to get off to a good start and finish the game off like we did the other night (a 4-2 win over Phoenix Coyotes).

SECOND PERIODS

"We do have to improve our second periods, they haven't been good all season. It's about having a good start and playing a full 60 minutes."

Home is where the heartache lays for the Oilers this season.

They're 5-5-3 at home and have not established any type of dominance at Rexall Place. The Oilers have a tendency to play to the score. If up by a couple they'll sit on the lead, something that nearly cost them the game against the Coyotes on Monday.

Then there are the occasions where they don't play with any desperation until they're down at least a pair of goals.

That was the case the last time they were in Vancouver, battling back to make a game of it after falling behind 3-0, only to lose 4-2.

ENERGY LEVEL

"It's expected that teams are going to score against you in this league," Gilbert said.

"But it seems like our energy level really gets down when teams score against us. We treat it like it's the end of the world.

"We have to work on trying to stay energetic on the bench and just go out there and keep playing our game, not get down on ourselves."

Had the Oilers not pulled out a 4-2 win against the Coyotes on Monday, it would have been a long Christmas break. Instead, it turned out to be a good change of pace, allowing the players to worry about something other than hockey.

"It's always nice to get away from it," Gilbert said.

"It's good to forget everything that's going on, refresh yourself, re-energize yourself, so it's a good break."

The biggest problem for the Oilers this season has been the inability to score. Players such as Erik Cole and Shawn Horcoff are struggling to find any offensive consistency.

Dustin Penner needed a kick in the backside to get going, while Sam Gagner needed time to work through the sophomore slump.

Defensively the Oilers were supposed to be outstanding, but only Sheldon Souray has been consistently impressive.

"Our defence should be an elite defence in this league and most nights it is, they move the puck up to our forwards really well," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"We identified that a couple of years ago as a real void and we've worked real hard to put guys back there that are built for today's game where we can get the puck up to our forwards.

"A lot of nights that happens, but the thing that's plagued us this year is the inconsistency. We need that out of the defence as well as the forwards, maybe more so."

Following tonight's contest with the Canucks, the Oilers return home to host the Nashville Predators and the Ottawa Senators before closing out the year in Calgary against the Flames.

"We've had a lot of ups and downs and I don't think the break could come at a better time," said Gagner.

"We had a big win on Monday, and hopefully we can carry that momentum through the break, forget about hockey for a bit and have that positive energy when we get back."


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