SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers dig deeper into 15th place

Buffalo Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller (R) and Mike Weber (L) check Edmonton Oilers' Taylor Hall during...

Buffalo Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller (R) and Mike Weber (L) check Edmonton Oilers' Taylor Hall during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Edmonton December 28, 2010. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:46 PM ET

The Oilers will still get to play those meaningful games they were hoping for in March and April.

Only at this rate, they'll be meaning that Edmonton gets another lottery pick.

No team can afford to lose six times in seven starts, least of all a 15th place back marker hoping to orchestrate a valiant springtime surge, but that's what the Oilers did Tuesday in postponing their stretch-drive rally for yet another night.

Playing a tied and depleted Sabres team that had been softened up by Calgary the night before, one that arrived in Edmonton without the services of leading scorer Derek Roy and 6-foot-8 defenceman Tyler Myers, the Oilers wound up on the bad end of a 4-2 decision.

It stared out well enough. In his first shift back after missing 10 games with a groin injury, Ales Hemsky set up the first goal of the game, a Dustin Penner wrist shot at 1:27. Hemsky lifted the stick of Tyler Ennis from behind, allowing Penner to swoop in and steal the puck for the point-blank shot.

Penner's goal is his 11th, tying him for the team lead with Taylor Hall.

The Oilers, who were caught flat-footed at the end of the second period and at the end of the third period last game in Vancouver, let their guard down late again - this time with 2:12 left in the first period. Adam Luke snuck in behind Sam Gagner in the slot and beat Nikolai Khabibulin from the doorstep to make it 1-1. That was bad enough, but it could have been worse if Nathan Gerbe had scored on a two-on-none break on the very next shift.

Despite the good start, Edmonton was lucky to get out of the first period 1-1.

Oilers picked up in the second where they left off in the first - playing poorly.

It was a painful 20 minutes to watch, one that saw the Oilers held to just two shots on goal through the first 15, despite two "power" plays.

Needless to say Buffalo took the lead, 2-1 on a Mike Weber point shot that found its way through a crowd and into the top corner behind Khabibulin.

The Sabres took a two goal lead 2:45 into the third period on one of the few weak goals that Khabibulin's let in lately. Jochen Hecht's pedestrian-looking wrist shot found the five hole and that was pretty much it.

Tom Gilbert's centering pass at 6:18 of the third period hit Ryan Jones' skate and went in, cutting the lead to 3-2 and bringing the bored-stiff crowd to life.

The Oilers pressed hard for the equalizer, and looked like they might get it until Weber flipped one from deep inside his own end that found the empty net and sealed the Oilers fate.

WHITNEY LEAVES EARLY: Defenceman Ryan Whitney, a key ingredient in Edmonton's season, left the game in the first period with an ankle injury and did not return.

If he's out for any length of time it'll be a terrible loss. He's the leader in minutes. Pretty much the key to the offence with 25 assists.

LATE HITS: Jeff Petry, making his NHL debut, picked up an assist on Jones' third-period goal... In order to make room on the roster for Hemsky and Petry, Edmonton put Gilbert Brule and Jim Vandermeer on retroactive injured reserve. It buys them a little time, but not much. They'll have to clear a couple of permanent spots by the end of the week.

Follow me at Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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