EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers need to find an identity, rediscover their scoring touch and win games.
That’s the to-do list head coach Pat Quinn has laid out for the Oilers ahead of a five-game road trip that begins at Colorado on Sunday.
Edmonton has undone a 6-2-1 start with a 1-6 slide in their last seven games, a stretch in which they were shutout three times and scored just five goals in the six losses.
Making Quinn’s checklist more daunting, the Oilers (7-8-1) will have to turn things around away from Rexall Place, where they’ve lost five straight games.
“We’re still finding out about some guys, how they can make a contribution to the team,” Quinn said.
“When you put teams together, you have some offensive skill guys, you have some defensive skill guys and you hope the blend of skills makes you a good team. At the end of the day, you have to have a good blend and we’re still figuring out what that blend is.”
The scope of the problems facing the suddenly staggering Oilers was evident in the words and tone of an obviously frustrated Quinn after a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday.
Quinn didn’t pull any punches at practice Friday with a squad who were outshot for the 13th time in 16 games against the Rangers and were unable to mount a sustained attack at even strength or on the power play.
“Right now, it’s not tasting real well,” Quinn said. “Early on, we thought we were pretty cocky. We were pretty good, for a little bit.
“Suddenly, we hit some adversity here and we haven’t been as forceful. Do they try? Yes. They’re trying out there, but we’re not sustaining our efforts. We don’t go to the areas you’ve got to go to to win hockey games. We just don’t get those things done.”
The Oilers filled the net in their first nine games, scoring 36 goals. They’ve managed just 11 in the seven games since then, with six of those coming in their lone win – a 6-5 decision over Detroit.
After a tremendous start, Dustin Penner has tailed off. Penner, who had 14 points his first nine games, has five in his last seven. Patrick O’Sullivan has two assists in his last eight games while Ales Hemsky, who is playing through a shoulder injury, has two goals and two assists in his last six.
“You realize we have some shortcomings in our game right now that we need to address and fix in a hurry,” captain Ethan Moreau said.
“Looking forward, you have to be positive and optimistic and approach it as an opportunity. There’s a lot of games left.”
Injuries and influenza have played a part in the reversal of fortune. Sheldon Souray has been out of the line-up for 13 games with a concussion. Steve Staios missed 12 games (concussion) before returning against the Rangers. Fernando Pisani had a bad back. Mike Comrie, Gilbert Brule and Hemsky missed games with the flu.
It’s forced Quinn to juggle his lines and defensive pairings and change up his power play, which has just two goals in 18 attempts over the last six games. Now, top centre Shawn Horcoff is out with a shoulder injury, J.F. Jacques has a bad back and Hemsky is banged up.
“There’s ups and downs in the season and this is a down part for us,” said Andrew Cogliano. “We’ve got to bounce back and find our way out.
“We’ve had unfortunate injuries and a situation with the flu, but that’s not the excuse we’re looking for. Our game is not where we want it to be and that’s why we’re losing.”
With stops in Denver, Ottawa, Buffalo, Atlanta and Columbus on this trip, the Oilers could dig themselves a big hole by the time they get home if they don’t turn things around.
“We understand we’ve got some injuries and that sort of thing, but nobody is going to feel sorry for you,” Quinn said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You’re still professionals. You’re still guys who come to work every day to accomplish some things.
“If you started getting distracted by things you have no control over, you beat yourself. It’s about who’s here, not who’s not here. We have a job to do and we’re not doing it was well as we need to do it.
“If we get into that negative mindset, then you just beat yourself. Don’t even show up, then mail the points in. We’re not about to that yet.”