Oilers perched on the edge of a precipice

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers took off their red faces yesterday and replaced them with brave ones as they tried their best to downplay the inherent dangers of heading out to sea in a leaky boat.

A team that's getting worse by the day looked a week ahead of its time Thursday as the New York Rangers exposed gaping holes in Edmonton's offence, defence, special teams and competitive spirit.

And now, after taking on water for two weeks, winning just once in their last seven tries, the 11th place Oilers sail out for five straight, and 11 of their next 16, on the road.

Nobody really wants to think about it, or maybe that's all they've been thinking about and they just don't want to talk about it, but if they don't figure this thing out fairly soon the season could get away from them for good.

"You never want to be in a panic situation, but at the same time we've got to reel it in," said Fernando Pisani. "The first 10 games we came out really hard and with a lot of enthusiasm and it's slipped a little bit.

"We just have to get back to that high-energy, tough-nosed hockey we need to play to be successful. Grinding it out along the walls, winning the one-on-one battles, which we haven't done very well lately."

What happened to the team that began the year with such fire and energy? How did all those clean slates get marked up so fast? The adrenaline rush from a new coaching staff has clearly worn off and the players most responsible for the strong start -- J-F Jacques, Ryan Stone and Gilbert Brule -- are, or were, hurt and or sick. Sheldon Souray, their toughest functional player, has been out since the third game of the season. Take those four away and you're left with last year's team -- the one where everything is soft but the hands.

"All the guys who will bump into somebody else are out of our lineup. It makes a difference," said Quinn, catching himself in mid-excuse. "But it's about who's here, not who's not here. We know there's some guys not here, doesn't matter.

"We have a job to do and we're not doing it as well as we need to do it. If we get into that negative mindset, then you just beat yourself, don't even show up, then. Mail the points in. Well, we're not about to do that yet."

Not anymore, anyway. But there's no denying there were a few stamps on a few of these last six losses.

"You start winning games and you think it's going to be easy," said defenceman Tom Gilbert. "But we're obviously struggling right now. We're in a bit of a rut, but we can't get down on ourselves, that's the worst thing you can do.

"We need to simplify things. It doesn't matter who you're playing in this league, the team that shows up and plays like a team is going to win."

The younger players have been taking the brunt of Quinn's criticism, but there aren't many veterans who've turned a wheel, either. Pisani, Ethan Moreau, Jason Strudwick and even Zack Stortini can be more impactful, especially heading out on the road, where the Oilers are 1-5 this year and opposition coaches with last change will have their pick of lines and defensive pairings to exploit.

"It's more about our game right now, it doesn't matter where we're playing," said Gilbert. "It doesn't matter how many we've lost in a row or our record in the last 10 games, it's just getting back to the way we were playing in the first five games, when we went out there with a passion and that edge. We were looking at the guy across from us thinking we were going to out-battle him.

"A lot of it is mental, too. It's not easy when you're losing. Everything is a lot harder, even practices."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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