EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers have lost six straight games. Their already inexperienced line-up has been thinned by injuries. They play five of their next seven games on the road and, just for good measure, the powerful Detroit Red Wings are coming to town Tuesday.
With a full-scale rebuild on the go, the Oilers expected their share of adversity this season, but they probably didn’t think the outlook would be this grim as they stagger into 2011.
“It’s tough for guys who haven’t through something like this, younger guys,” said forward Andrew Cogliano. “You have to keep the mood very good in here. You have to keep things upbeat.
“When you’re missing your leaders, it puts the onus on other guys to step up, not only on the ice but in the room. It’s been tough. I’m not going to lie. Guys are trying and the results aren’t there. There’s really no excuses. We have to push through the injuries, the tough games and get wins.”
The Oilers (12-18-7) are 1-6-2 in their last nine games and in last place in the Western Conference following a 2-1 loss to the rival Calgary Flames Saturday.
Already without captain Shawn Horcoff, out another month with a sprained knee, and leading scorer and power-play quarterback Ryan Whitney, who might be facing season-ending ankle surgery, the Oilers lost rookie Jordan Eberle to an ankle injury against Calgary.
Now, with a depleted lineup, they face one of those tough stretches that coaches like to refer to as an exercise in character building.
“They’re playing hockey,” said coach Tom Renney. “We’re doing what we love to do. It’s not always easy. It’s not always pretty and it’s not always fun, but it’s always a challenge and it’s always worth it.
“I don’t need to get philosophical here, but there’s a lot of people in tougher situations than our guys having to play through this. It’s game on for us. Let’s just go play and try to put our best foot forward every single night.”
To help fill the voild, the Oilers recalled forwards Linus Omark and Liam Reddox from the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League on Monday.
Eberle, 20, had his left leg fold under him on a hit by Ales Kotalik in the second period Saturday. While X-rays showed no fractures, he left the rink wearing a walking cast. Results of an MRI Tuesday will provide a clearer picture of how long Eberle, who had 23 points in 37 games, will be out.
“I don’t think it’s as serious as it looked,” said Eberle, who wasn’t wearing the cast when he talked with reporters Monday. “It’s sore, but it’s definitely getting better.
“It’s the kind of a thing where I don’t think they want to rush it. At the same time, like I said, I don’t think it’s as serious as it looked.”
Whitney had 27 points and was on pace for a career-high when his right ankle gave way early in a 4-2 loss against Buffalo Dec. 28. Whitney is awaiting word on if he’ll need surgery to repair a tendon.
It’s no coincidence that without Whitney Edmonton’s power play is scoreless in 12 attempts in its last four games.
“We’re not too far off playing well,” rookie Taylor Hall said. “I really can’t sense a whole lot of disappointment here. Obviously, we don’t want to lose. It’s tough losing. It’s not as much fun as winning, that’s for sure.
“But, we’re not panicking. Tom (Renney) isn’t panicking. We’re not getting bag-skated or berated in the media or anything like that. I think it’s pretty calm in here. This is something we have to fight through.”
Obviously, things won’t get any easier for the Oilers to start this month. The Red Wings, tied with Vancouver for the lead in the Western Conference with 53 points, are coming off a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia Sunday.
The Red Wings beat the Oilers 3-1 Nov. 5 in their last visit, and waltzed to a 6-2 win in Detroit a week later.
“There’s no excuses,” Cogliano said. “I know it’s a cliche, but there really isn’t. Guys have to play every night. The guys play, the coaching staff is looking at them to fill those voids.
“It makes things more difficult, for sure, but it also gives guys more opportunities to step up and claim roles. We just have to find a way. There’s really no other answer.”