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Horcoff's return could be help young Oilers need

by Sergei J. Feldman
NEW YORK -- Shawn Horcoff is used to having the best seat in the house every night -- beside his teammates on the Edmonton Oilers' bench before taking to the ice for his shifts.

Not as of late, however. The 32-year-old captain has spent the past three games sitting in the worst seat -- the press box.

After being sidelined with a leg injury during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks last Sunday, Horcoff has seen his team go 1-2-1 during their current five-game road trip, which ends Sunday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Their only win came in that Blackhawks game, a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

"The guys did a great job," Horcoff told, referring to that game. "That third-period comeback was a great moral victory for everyone."

It also was one that could have served as a springboard up the Western Conference standings. Instead, they followed with a three-game losing streak, falling to the Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils.

What happened?

"Carolina wasn't a good effort," Horcoff said of a 7-1 loss in which his team trailed 4-0 less than 7:30 into the game. "But you're going to have that sometimes when you've got a young team. Against Detroit (a 6-2 loss), at least the effort was there. But when you make mistakes, good teams like that are going to capitalize and they were able to do that."

In those two losses, the Oilers were outscored 13-3.

Friday against a struggling Devils team, though, should have been different. It started well, as the Oilers took 2-0 and 3-1 leads, but they couldn't hold on in what ended as a 4-3 overtime loss.

As rough as getting blown out might be, losing the close ones elicits an altogether different kind of pain.

"Those games are tougher to swallow," Horcoff said. "We controlled that game for a large portion and you feel like you have the game in control and in your hands, but then you can't pull it out. That's rough."

But it may not be rough for long, as Horcoff aims to return Sunday against the Rangers. His presence and the opportunity to head home on a winning note hopefully can propel the team to a productive second month of the season after starting November with five losses in their first six games.

Win or lose against the Rangers, the sentiment from Horcoff was clear.

"It's still early," he said. "We're not even a quarter of the way in. Come Christmas, we'll be able to look back and say, 'Hey, where are we?' By then we'll be used to the grind, used to the expectations.

"You can probably be a little less lenient then."

Especially given how young the Oilers are. Adjusting to life as a professional in the National Hockey League takes time -- but ultimately, winning is what matters.

Moving forward, to be on the winning side of things more often than not, the Oilers will have to rely on the very thing that makes them susceptible to the occasional mediocre performance: youth.

"I think the strength of our team is our speed and you have to count our youth, too," Horcoff said. "Every night is an exciting game for (the younger guys) to play in the NHL, play in new buildings."

That excitement, thus far, has served as the foundation for a team philosophy. And while the building process isn't complete, the signs are there.

"One thing we don't lack is hard work," Horcoff said.

They'll need it to save face on this road trip against the Rangers. And they'll need it moving forward, too.

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