December 30, 2008
Opposite directionsSenators struggling along, while Oilers slowly creeping up the standings
By DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA
The Edmonton Oilers are fully aware of how quickly a winning streak can turn into a losing skid.
So even though they are pretty happy with their game, and the mood is light around the dressing room, they are not about to take the Ottawa Senators for granted. Even if they've lost 12 consecutive road games entering tonight's contest (8 p.m.) at Rexall Place.
"They're still a good team," said Oilers forward Andrew Cogliano.
"I played for their head coach Craig Hartsburg at the World Juniors and he's a great coach.
"I don't know, it's weird to see a top line with (Dany) Heatley, (Daniel) Alfredsson and (Jason) Spezza, they're pretty dominant players, but right now they're having some trouble."
The Senators are currently last in the Northeast Division standings, 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
They've lost their last three games and five of the last six.
Tonight's game is the fourth of an eight-game road trip that has already taken them through Philadelphia, Calgary and Vancouver.
"This is a huge road trip for them and we know they're not going to back down," Cogliano said.
"They lost the first three games of the trip and I know they're looking to come in to try and beat us. Those teams are always dangerous."
This is the Oilers first meeting with the Senators since the 2006-2007 season and it's one of two encounters between the teams this year. The last time the Oilers beat the Senators was in March 2004.
"If you look at the standings you can see they're having some struggles, but when you look at their team on paper there are some very talented and dangerous players there," said Oilers winger Erik Cole.
"I'm sure they're going to come in here with a chip on their shoulder and be ready to play and we have to pay attention to detail at the highest level."
Two seasons from a berth in the Stanley Cup final, the Senators have struggled with consistency all year. They are still getting production from the big three as Heatley, Alfredsson and Spezza lead the team in scoring. However, there is a big drop off after that, especially with their top scoring defenceman Filip Kuba out of the lineup with a groin injury.
"We all know how important defence is and when you get some injuries to some important players on your back end, they're tough to make up for," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "I think it's a simple as that. I think Ottawa is just a team that's banged up in some critical positions and it's tough to win when that happens. We've seen that here in the last couple of years when we ran into all those injuries.
"It's the old adage, would you rather play a team that is on a seven-game winning streak or a five-game losing skid? You know you're going to get that team's best effort because it's an environment that they don't want to continue. I think they're going to be a very dangerous team at this time."
The Oilers, meanwhile, have won three straight heading into tonight's contest and are slowly climbing their way up the Western Conference standings.
A win over the Senators would match a season-long four-game win streak, which is how the Oilers started the year.
"We still need all the points we can get," said Oilers winger Jason Strudwick. "We've kind of put ourselves in tough position here, we're just barely in the playoffs, we're tied with two other teams and we're not in a comfortable spot at all. And the thing with Ottawa, is that they have some unreal players, some of the best players in the league."
"Their record may not suggest that they're playing very well, but they're dangerous. I've played against them for a long time and I know that group over there pretty well still. They are still a good team and there's no way we're going to take them lightly."
The fact Ottawa does have some highly-priced, highly-talented personnel is what makes their situation so precarious. Talk out of the nation's capital is that if things don't turn around changes will be made and someone will traded or fired.
Considering their struggles on the road this season, the Senators could be all but out of the playoff race by the time the world junior championships wrap up and they are allowed back in Scotiabank Place.
It was similar to the talk encompassing the Oilers during their struggles earlier in the year.
"Things here are good right now, the confidence is higher, players are recognizing that and it's a lot more fun to be in this environment," said MacTavish.
"That goes without saying and now the emphasis is to put in the effort every single night, make it repeatable and give yourself a chance to be ready to play that type of hockey every single night."