Oilers under a dark cloud

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:55 PM ET

They have one win in their last nine games.

Shawn Horcoff is injured.

Ryan Whitney is injured.

Jordan Eberle is on the limp.

Knowing the way it goes for this team, somebody else is probably getting injured soon.

The playoffs are a ghost.

Oh, and the Detroit Red Wings are in town.

Happy New Year!

Even a future as bright as the one Steve Tambellini is advertising can't shine away all of those black clouds. As good as tomorrow might look, there is no hiding from today in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room.

"It's been tough, I'm not going to lie," said centre Andrew Cogliano, after the slumping and short-staffed Oilers wrapped up practice on Monday, in the hopes of snapping a six-game losing streak Tuesday against the Wings. "You can see it from the outside Ñ guys are trying and the results aren't there. But there are really no excuses; we have to push through the injuries, push through the tough games, and get wins."

A lot of the players in the room have been through this too many times before, watching the rest of the NHL pull away before the Christmas trees are even picked up from the back alley. When Edmonton misses the playoffs this spring it will be for a franchise-record fifth consecutive year, but what's kept them from throwing ropes over ceiling beams is the promise of a better tomorrow.

It's a delicate balance, though. It's important that they stay up, because of what they're trying to build here, but it's just as important that they're not too up because they've, you know, lost six in a row. And nobody, nowhere, should be OK with losing six in a row.

"We talk about it a lot, we have a young team and we have to stay positive," said Ales Hemsky. "It's still fun to come to the rink, but you don't want it too fun, we're still losing. You want a good mood, not a great mood. I think everybody knows that and we're all on the same page.

"You can't say ÔWe lost, so what, I'm just happy to be here.' We can't have any guys like that. We don't have any guys like that."

Hemsky's seen a lot of down years in Edmonton, so he knows from experience the difference between a team with few wins and a team with no hope.

"It's never easy to lose games, but if I look at this team compared to the years before ... we never used to be good. It's exciting to see a lot of good young players who are going to be huge for this organization for a lot of years. We could be better than we are, but I've seen years before where we didn't have it, where we weren't going to get any better."

This team will get better, it just might not be the automatic, easy, paved road to glory that some of them might think. Without hard work, brains and grit, skill is virtually useless Ñ a lesson the Oilers have already been taught too many times this winter.

"It's a great room, great people who really and truly care," said head coach Tom Renney. "I just wonder sometimes if they understand what the ultimate price really and truly is."

Thankless tasks like blocking shots and getting dirty in front of the net don't seem high on a lot of individual checklists right now.

"Suck it up and man up to the job," said Renney. "If you're going to survive in this league and have success you have to answer the call. There's no better rah rah than winning. If we don't at least compete properly, to know that we're right there, then we've got problems.

"We are a work in progress ... but we have to talk about tangible things here. We're an NHL team."

Because as exciting as it might be to dream about tomorrow, there is still today to take care of. And today matters, too.

"Today is everything," said Cogliano. "You can't look toward the future when you have a game that day. There's no excuses why the guys who are playing now can't get wins. The guys in this room want to win. Right now."

Follow me at Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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