SUN Hockey Pool

Long Blowvember for Oilers

Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff, seen here battling Dustin Penner for the puck during a recent game...

Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff, seen here battling Dustin Penner for the puck during a recent game against the L.A. Kings, says the team has found ways to win without key players this season. (REUTERS)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:29 PM ET

It looks bleak.

Lost four in a row. Lost four of their top six defencemen. Outscored 20-8 in the slump. Goalies look shaky. Chicago's up next. Going out for four in a row on the road.

How long till Blowvember is finally over?

The first crisis of the season is upon them and the Edmonton Oilers, having fallen from first to ninth in the Western Conference (with Detroit and Vancouver right on their freshly-spanked tails) are rather desperate to prove that this is not the beginning of the end.

In a city that's seen this movie too many times before, it's a tough sell.

"If you're going to be a playoff team this is where you stop it," Shawn Horcoff said of the recent dive. "You have to stop it within the next É immediately. We have to win some games and get right back into it. We're out of the playoffs as of today."

Question is, how can they get right back into it now?

After a start in which everything they touched, every move they made, seemed blessed from above, the breaks are now beating the boys. They're not getting the calls they used to get, they're not getting the saves they used to get, the kid line has dried up and the defence has been obliterated by injury.

"We had injuries early and we were winning," said Horcoff. "Ales Hemsky was out, Ryan Whitney was out. Good teams are going to find ways to get over that."

It's good that their fighting spirit hasn't abandoned them as quickly as structure and success have, but optimism outside the dressing room remains in short supply. Their next opponent is Chicago, who just rang Edmonton up, back when the Oilers were only down two defencemen. Then they go into Dallas, where they never win, and Minnesota where they never win, and play back-to-back games in Nashville and Colorado after each of those dates.

How do you not think that this is going to get worse before it gets better?

"First off I think we have a better team," said Jordan Eberle. "We have more players who play bigger roles, more skill, more tough guys, I think we just flat-out have a better team. Just in saying that, we're able to come out of it that way."

If this is last year, or the year before, predicting where this season goes is pretty easy. Straight down. In flames. Draft lottery, here they come.

But Tom Gilbert has seen enough of this year's team to predict an entirely different course.

"We've had that winning streak, we know we can win, we know how we can play," he said. "It's not like the way we've been playing the last week is the way we're going to be playing for the rest of the year. We know how to win. We just have to find that again.

"Those first 14 games or so, even in the games where we weren't playing like we wanted to, we were finding ways to win. We know we can do that. Just knowing we can put together a six-game win streak is definitely a positive."

The Blackhawks represent a stern test, as well as the difference between a five-game losing streak and a resounding end to the slump.

"It's definitely a character test," said Eberle. "We owe these guys. We didn't have our best effort, but they gave it to us in Chicago. They have a very active D and a very offensive team, if we turn pucks over and let them counter on us it's going to be a long night. We have to make sure we're sticking to our game plan."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

@SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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