Oilers gauntlet continues in Detroit

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:12 PM ET

DETROIT — It’s like getting beat up by a pair of schoolyard bullies only to have to go back the next day and face two more.

So far the Edmonton Oilers’ trip through the valley of death has not been a pleasant one. And heading into Detroit on Friday, things aren’t expected to get any better, facing an ornery Red Wings team that has lost four straight.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “In September, we circled this stretch of games here and thought it was going to be interesting. It’s proved to be that.”

After getting smacked around by the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals, the Oilers get the privilege of swinging through Detroit Friday on their way to a match-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday afternoon.

All four teams have surpassed the 85-point plateau this season, while the Oilers have just managed to post 54.

The Red Wings’ current losing skid has seen their lead in the Central Division standings dwindle to five points over the Chicago Blackhawks and has them nervous in the Motor City.

Desperate for a win, they’re not about to overlook the Oilers.

“The league is so close now, that you can win or lose on any given night, that’s why you have to come out with your best effort,” said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. “Whether it’s a team that is out of the playoffs or is battling for a playoff spot, they have a lot of pride in their room and they’re going to play their hearts out as well. That’s something that we have to respect and respond to.

“We haven’t played as well as we’ve wanted to lately and we’re in a situation where we want to play better as a team. For us, it’s just another game where we have to play better than we did in our last game.”

The Oilers are hoping to do the same, out-classed by the Capitals during the final two periods on Wednesday.

However, with their top three scorers — Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner — out of the lineup due to injury, the Oilers are expected to be in full survival mode against the Red Wings.

“It’s a challenge, there is no question about that and I give our guys a lot of credit. They’re trying,” said Renney. “We are where we are because we haven’t been good enough and we haven’t played well enough. Certainly on the heels of Colorado, we thought we would be more competitive.

“Ultimately we got competitive against Philadelphia, but the horse was already out of the barn. And I thought our first period against Washington was fine, but it’s about sustainability which is as much as mental thing as it is anything else.”

In a season of learning, there are only so many lessons that can be taken from continually losing.

Yet the Oilers want to make the most of a unique situation where they’re facing four Stanley Cup contenders, on the road, in consecutive games.

“The big thing is that you don’t want to get your (butt) handed to you, because it just doesn’t matter then what you’re trying to teach,” Renney said. “At that point and time, if you’re just getting hammered you’re not learning anything new. They know losing isn’t fun. They’ve known that for 80 games.

“But it does give us a chance as a coaching staff and this combination of players to appreciate what the very best teams in the league look like. As a team it gives us a chance to play different systems in order to be competitive, because you’ll come back to those at some point and time.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiest


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