With the fans and media breathing down their necks after four losses in five games dropped them from sixth to ninth, the Edmonton Oilers huddled up at yesterday's morning skate to try and ease the pressure.
Failing that, they plan to ignore it.
"The message is to embrace it and have fun with it rather than dread what might happen, or expect something to happen that's bad," captain Ethan Moreau, who chaired the on-ice session, said before last night's game. "Let's be positive and realize it's a great opportunity. We don't have to pass three or four teams, we're not 10 points back, we don't have three games left and we (don't) have to win every one. We have a great opportunity to have a good year."
Nobody ever disputed that, but some people, like the 16,839 fans who booed them off the ice after a terrible 1-0 loss to Columbus last Thursday, are worried the Oilers are letting it slip away. Heading into last night the club had six wins in 15 games (6-7-2) since the all-star break and included in those defeats are 10-2 and 8-3 losses. They're 3-5 in their last eight home games. They've been shut out on home ice three times this year.
Isn't some of the concern justified?
"We're in the exact same position as a lot of teams," said Moreau. "We went through a stretch where we didn't play that well, we got booed off the ice, fine. We'll play better, we'll get in the playoffs and have a great year.
"When we start worrying about the standings and reading and listening to the negative press, people are getting on us, it just brings the energy level down."
A lot of this, of course, is the by-product of the high expectations attached to Edmonton's season. There's a noticeable difference in climate when a team is expected to succeed, when fans and media believe it has the talent to succeed.
Higher expectations always mean a shorter leash.
"It's part of playing in a huge hockey market, and because of some of the tough losses we've had this year," said Moreau, who can sense the unrest in the city.
"It's just been a different feeling here. There was a little more optimism at the start of the year, we thought we'd challenge for the division, and that hasn't happened.
"That's OK, we've had some adversity, but we have a great opportunity to get in the playoffs and have a great playoff run. There's no reason we should be coming to the rink with a negative attitude."
Head coach Craig MacTavish says criticism is usually something a team brings on itself, and something it can wash away itself, too.
"When you play the game like we've played the last couple of games it leaves your door open for negativity to creep in," he said. "The only way to turn around the negativity is bond together and play the game."