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Oilers trying to get on track, end four-game losing streak

Desperation sinking in for Cup contenders ahead of tough road trip

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers will try to end a four-game losing streak when they start a three-game road trip against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; SN1, WGN, NHL.TV).

"You have to stop the bleeding before it gets really bad and you dig yourself too big of a hole that you can't get out of," Oilers left wing Milan Lucic said after a 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, their third straight loss at home. "There are 77 games left, and we can keep saying that, but as long as the losses keep piling up, it is going to be a long year."

Edmonton (1-4-0) also plays at the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBCSP, SNW, NHL.TV) and at the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SN1, ATTSP-PT, NHL.TV).

The Oilers had five days between games last week and had an intense practice after a 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at home on Oct. 9. But in their next two games, they lost 6-1 to the Ottawa Senators and fell behind 3-0 in the first period against the Hurricanes despite a proclaimed focus on a better start.

"We've been saying that after every game," captain Connor McDavid said. "You're not looking to start 1-4, ever. Teams have done it before and come back. But like you said, it's five games in and nobody's on the panic button here.

"I'm sure there will be doubters now but we still believe in this room, obviously. It's a little bit magnified because it's the first five games. If we go through the season with a 1-of-5 stretch in February, it's not good but it's not as talked about as it is now. It's very magnified at the start of the season but we'll battle out of it."

The Oilers have struggled mightily in several important areas since defeating the Calgary Flames 3-0 in their season opener on Oct. 4.

Video: Teravainen, Staal lead Canes to 5-3 win vs. Oilers

Their penalty kill has fallen to 68.2 percent through five games, worst in the NHL, and they have allowed 19 goals during the losing streak (4.75 per game).

"[The penalty kill] is not close to NHL caliber," coach Todd McLellan said. "We're struggling a little bit with the confidence. We're running when we should stand and we're standing when we should be running.

"We haven't forgotten how to play. We have moments when we're brain dead but I still think we know how to play. A lot of it's fundamentals. It's poor reads, poor judgment on the ice."

The Oilers outshot Carolina 51-21 but the scoring chances were about even. 

"When you give up five goals on 21 shots, there's something wrong," McLellan said.

Edmonton will be looking for a spark in several areas.

The Oilers qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 11 years last season, advancing to the Western Conference Second Round. Edmonton came one win away from reaching the conference final, but lost to the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in Game 7. After that experience, the Oilers were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season. 

McDavid, who won the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy after scoring 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) last season, hasn't scored since the opener. Edmonton's wings have scored three goals this season and the team is shooting 3.5 percent (four goals, 119 shots) at 5-on-5 the past four games.

Video: CGY@EDM: McDavid finds the empty net for hat trick

No. 1 goalie Cam Talbot is 1-3-0 in four starts (3.96 goals-against average, .880 save percentage) and backup Laurent Brossoit allowed five goals on 21 shots against the Hurricanes in his first start of the season. 

In addition, the Oilers will be hoping forward Leon Draisaitl can return to the lineup soon. He has missed the past two games with concussion-like symptoms, McLellan said.

"You live and breathe with your top guys," McLellan said. "It's a group effort in here, everyone knows that, but … those are the guys who have to get it done.

"It's obvious that some of our go-to guys are struggling."

Center Mark Letestu, who scored his first goal of the season Tuesday, hinted that though matters seem dire after five games, the Oilers have lots of battle in them for the road trip ahead.

"I don't think we are a fragile group," he said. "I think we are giving up some big opportunities. I think a fragile group would have folded the tent and went away (after falling behind 3-0 against Carolina) and it would have been six or seven nothing. We battled our way back into the game.

"A fragile team would have packed it up and called it a night, but we put our nose to the grindstone and put 51 (shots) on their goalie (Cam Ward) and made him work."

The road trip may be just what the Oilers need, Letestu said.

"Well, home certainly isn't working right now," he said. "A change of getting on the road, it might be nice to get a change of scenery. The last couple years we have been a good road team. We are going into some tough buildings so our game is going to have to progress if we are going to have success."

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