SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers not tossing in towel

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Eventually you just get sick of being beaten up all the time.

And after just four wins in a miserable 18-game stretch that dropped them into last place, there weren't enough drugs in all of Daryl Katz's pharmacies combined to ease the pain of a season going horribly wrong.

The only possible cure was a simple, self-help remedy that they've been trying for a few days now, and it seems to be working.

"It was embarrassing," defenceman Sheldon Souray said of the slump and the standings. "And it was a wake-up call. Guys have been around, all of us, not even just the older guys, the whole team here has pretty much been the same team for a while and after a while you just get tired of losing. At some point you have to stop learning lessons along the way.

"Just go and play, what are we waiting for?"

SIGNS OF LIFE

After back-to-back wins in Dallas and Detroit, the first time in over six weeks they've won two in a row, the Oilers are showing signs of life.

"Nobody is folding the tent," said Souray. "We certainly haven't played to the level we'd expect, but we've seen a lot of encouraging things over the last two games."

They're not saying they're back. What they are saying, with all certainty, is that they're not dead yet.

"Without Hemmer and Khabby, everybody thought we were done," said Ladislav Smid, coming off a two-point night against the Stars, a performance that included his first goal in 151 games. "But I think we're a team full of fighters and we're going to fight for a spot in the playoffs."

It was now or never. Gas this trip and they probably could write off their entire season before Christmas.

"For sure, we're in danger of falling behind," said head coach Pat Quinn.

"We had that stretch where we were doing good things for a while and then just playing good enough to lose. Sometimes you get the sense of frustration and maybe some false satisfaction where it's 'Oh, gee, we played pretty good, too bad we got some bad breaks.'

"You can only ride that for so long and all of a sudden your season is done.

"We needed to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough, start thinking about what we started thinking about when we came to training camp, and that's being a playoff team.

"We need the points now. We need to play like that all the time if we can. Our past two games, I've liked them a lot."

With their last three opponents on this road trip, Florida tonight, Tampa on Wednesday and St. Louis on Friday, all below the playoff cutline, they can do themselves a lot of good.

Of course, when you're closer to last than eighth, and savouring your first two-game win streak since October, you probably shouldn't be licking your chops at any opponent.

This team has a tendency to get comfortable after the smallest steps forward, a glitch they'll have to guard against this week.

"We're so far back... we've got our work cut out for us in a big way," said Souray. "A good team's mentality is to go into every rink and win."

MOOD CHANGES

They didn't dare think that a few days ago. But when the black cloud starts to lift, it can take a lot of bad things with it. The mood changes, players become more confident, they aren't afraid of making mistakes. They expect good things to happen, not bad.

"You win two games in a row and all of a sudden everybody is happy, things are going well, it's a better feeling, said Patrick O'Sullivan. "We're starting to get that and we're starting to play the way we're capable of."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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