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Back to drawing board for Oilers after losses nine of past 10 outings

EDMONTON - With no place to go but up, the Edmonton Oilers are literally going back to the drawing board in an effort to reverse their fortunes and change their direction.

Losers of nine of their last 10 games and sitting 15th in the Western Conference and 29th in NHL standings, the Oilers will stage a two-day mini-camp next weekend during a four-day break between games instead of taking the time off, as originally planned.

Coach Pat Quinn and his players got started Monday, spending almost as much time during a 90-minute practice at Rexall Place in front of a white board going over drills as they did skating.

Rest will have to wait.

"We are not giving up the ship," Quinn said. "We're going to have a little bit of a mini-camp here. "We've got four days to work.

"I'm not copping out here, but we had one practice day before we played an exhibition game. Never have I not had time to instil the basics. I had more time going to the Olympics than I did with this team.

"We've been working at bringing the system of play in . . . you saw us 15 minutes at the board at one time, asking questions we've been talking about for three months. You think, holy smoke, we've been working on this for three months? What have we missed here? We're going to do some work."

At 16-22-4 after a 4-1 loss in San Jose on Saturday, the Oilers sat 15 points out of a playoff spot going into games Monday as they prepared for a Tuesday visit by the Phoenix Coyotes.

With special teams struggling, their scoring drying up and their defensive game not where it should be, it's not like Quinn will be short on material for the refresher course.

"There's nowhere to hide," said defenceman Sheldon Souray. "There's no other way to put it. I mean, we're in the worst situation we can possibly be in, you know? We are in last place. We're in the bottom looking up.

"We've kind of done this to ourselves. We haven't played well. Other teams have played well enough to win the odd game. You can be negative and have a loser's attitude or you can come and be prepared to work."

Players gathered around Quinn and associate coach Tom Renney several times Monday as drills were explained. They would do drills for five or 10 minutes, then it was right back to the board.

More than once, drills were stopped when Quinn and Renney saw something they didn't like, be it poor execution or lack of zip in carrying out the plan.

"At this point in our season, we need to be desperate and we can't worry about what's happened the game before," said forward Patrick O'Sullivan. "We have to focus on the game we're playing and try to win that game.

"Everybody is frustrated, disappointed, probably embarrassed. You ask anybody involved with our team, coaches, management and players, I don't think anybody would've thought we'd be in this position at the current point in the season."

During the 1-9 slide, the Oilers power play is just 4-for-34 and has been blanked in eight games. Dustin Penner has scored just one goal with two assists in that stretch. Shawn Horcoff has two goals and three helpers, the same as O'Sullivan.

On top of that, the penalty killing has been porous and Jeff Deslauriers has started nine of the 10 games - and 20 of the last 21 - with No. 1 stopper Nikolai Khabibulin out with a bad back.

"We don't really have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves," Souray said. "You've just got to try to maintain a positive attitude and come to the rink every day prepared to work.

"We have a lot of work cut out for us. If you start looking at the big picture, it obviously seems like a huge mountain to climb, but we just have to, as cliche as it is, we have to come here each and every day prepared to put our work boots on, learn a little more and get prepared for the next challenge."

After facing the Coyotes, the surprise of the Western Conference with a 25-14-4 record, the Oilers meet Columbus on Thursday. Instead of four days off, they'll stage the mini-camp before facing Nashville and Pittsburgh.

"When you're lacking the fundamentals of the game, you're in trouble," Souray said. "That's what's happened to us.

"The snowball started to kind of roll and became an avalanche. Now, we're really starting at the bottom. We're at the bottom and there's nowhere else to go."



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