SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers aren't giving up

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 6:52 AM ET

My, how the mediocre have fallen.

Just 10 days ago the Edmonton Oilers were rolling along fine, with just four regulation losses in their previous 19 starts and a three-game win streak that had them safely in seventh, with a four-point cushion. They were chasing down sixth and a first round showdown with Calgary.

What a spring it was going to be.

And now, here they are. Eleventh place and sinking. One win in the last six games. One of the worst home records in the league. The worst special teams in the league. Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe taking heavy fire from an angry fan base. Reduced to begging their own fans for support on the Internet.

What the heck happened?

"It's a fine line between winning and losing," said embattled head coach MacTavish. "And notwithstanding that bonehead (stick measurement) call last game, it was three 3-2 losses and a 4-3 loss and 3-0 to Minnesota. It's a fine line between winning and losing and we're just on the other side of it.

"We're too tentative. We're in the mentality where we don't want to make the mistake rather than being in the mentality that you want to make the play."

They haven't had a lot of big plays from their big players, which might be why it went so horribly wrong in the 10 days it took to go 1-5 and reduce their playoff chances to a shadow chase.

"We're in a bad spot, but we did it to ourselves," said winger Ales Hemsky, who has two goals in his last 12 games. "It's disappointing, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves right now. We got into this situation ourselves and nobody else is going to get us out of it.

"We have five games and we have to do everything we can to push for the playoffs. We can't control the other things, how the other teams play, just focus on our games and do everything we can do."

To a lot of people, the chase is over. Jumping three teams in five games is too tall an order in too short a time frame.

In a way, this woeful stretch drive has been a microcosm of Edmonton's entire season. The year began with so much giddy promise there were visions of a Northwest Division title dancing in their heads. They had red hot rookies returning from last season's inspired stretch run, they had a handful of key veterans returning from injury, they had proven impact players Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky joining the joy ride.

Things looked so good in September. Now, bleak.

"The season is long and you can't say from the start how you'll end up, the league is so tight," sighed Hemsky, well aware that 77 games into the season, the team in fifth had just four more wins than the team in 11th. "But we're in the same position every year. Why do we wait so late to focus on making the playoffs?"

Good question, not that there's any time to answer it right now.

"We can't wait any longer, that's for sure," said Sheldon Souray. "I don't think we have too many opportunities to lose games anymore. By no means are we out of it. We're not mathematically out of it. A team loses two games and we win two, you're in.

"We'll do the math at the end of the season. Right now we're just worried about winning the next game. That's all our focus is - it doesn't matter what happened yesterday or a week ago, or a week down the road, what really matters is how we're going to respond (today)."

If they're going to pull their season out of the rubble, it will have to begin tonight against the San Jose Sharks, a hot team (7-2-1 in its last 10) that still has a lot to play for (first place in the conference and first place overall).

"The situation remains dire," said MacTavish. "But it's no more dire than it was yesterday morning."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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