Oilers, first to worst

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:42 AM ET

TORONTO -- Shawn Horcoff is tired, Ales Hemsky is tired of not scoring and Ales Kotalik, with five lonely goals since Christmas, must be wondering if his hands have fallen asleep for good.

Not exactly the makings of a good first line, and they weren't at all during Thursday's crushing defeat in Ottawa, where Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza lit them up for three goals in a hopelessly easy 4-2 upset.

The battle of the top units deteriorated into a such a lopsided slaughter that Craig MacTavish had no choice but to disband his newly-minted trio in the third period to prevent any further damage.

They'll likely stay apart this evening when the slumping Oilers attempt to fish their reputations out of the toilet water in front of a national television audience in Toronto.

"I think so, I think Horc needs a little bit of a break," said MacTavish, who's starting to see some fatigue in a player who's been averaging almost 22 minutes a night. "He's a hard working guy who's always training and he plays the toughest minutes that any one of our forwards play. He needs a break more than anybody right now."

So Horcoff had yesterday off and will likely start on the second line tonight, while Sam Gagner moves into his spot between the snakebitten Aleses.

"Sam has five points in two games - he'll get a look up there for sure," said MacTavish.

OPPORTUNITY TO RECHARGE

Horcoff doesn't see it as a demotion as much as an opportunity to recharge, and return to his form of two weeks ago when he had eight points in six games.

"I wasn't happy with my game (Thursday), it wasn't nearly where it needed to be," he said. "(MacTavish) is going to make changes. I'm not worried about that.

"I know I'm going to get opportunities again."

Horcoff and Hemsky had it going not that long ago, but they're drier than a sawdust sandwich right now.

Hemsky's blistering start upon returning from a concussion (six goals in five games) has slowed to a trickle (four goals in his last 15 games). Horcoff has one assist in five games. And Kotalik's problems in Buffalo have now become the Oilers problem in Edmonton.

"The last three or four games have been a struggle for me I'm trying to find my legs," said Horcoff. "It's a tough game to play when you're not feeling good, especially when you're out there in a lot of situations.

"We were playing good and producing every game and then this hit, it's kind of puzzling for me. I take a lot of pride in my conditioning and feeling good."

MacTavish is hoping a day away from the rink will add some spring to his stride.

For Hemsky, it was just the opposite. So unnerved and out of sorts is No. 83 that he was actually spotted participating in an optional practice yesterday, which is kind of like seeing Elvis at a health food store.

"I wanted to come out and play with the puck a little bit," said Hemsky. "I don't have the confidence I had before, I'm just trying to find my way."

MENTAL BLOCK

Like Horcoff, something isn't quite right, but in Hemsky's case it's more of a mental shot block.

"My game right now ... I don't challenge the defencemen like before," he said. "You have to make the plays, you have to make something happen. I have to challenge guys one on one, don't be scared, just play my game."

They all realize they have to fix whatever's wrong and start putting their names on the scoresheet before it's too late.

"We need guys scoring goals," said Hemsky. "The guys who should (be scoring), they have to produce. It's a crucial time, I should step it up and do it. That's why I'm here, to score goals and produce."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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