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Rookies carry the load early as Oilers get off to a slow start @NHL

EDMONTON - If turnabout is fair play, the veterans will pick up the tab when the Edmonton Oilers hold their team dinner in Phoenix this week.

While rookies like Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Kyle Brodziak have been money through six games, it's the veterans who have come up short during a stretch in which the Oilers have lost four straight.

With four full days in Arizona for some team bonding before the Oilers try to turn things around against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday, now is as good a time as any for Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll and Ales Hemsky, to name three, to pay the price - if not the dinner bill.

"The kids have been very productive," said coach Craig MacTavish. "The veterans are working at executing things as we want them to, but it hasn't happened yet. We're going to work our way through it.

"I see the determination and I have, pretty much, from the outset. The fact you don't see much production over the first six games is really worrisome for the player, but we just encourage the players to put the work in, which they have, and play a good overall game. Over time, they're going to get their breaks."

After a 3-2 win over San Jose and a 5-3 victory over Philadelphia to open the season, the Oilers have been outscored 15-5 during a slide extended to four games with back-to-back losses to Vancouver.

Cogliano, 20, leads the Oilers in scoring with five points. Gagner, 18, is right behind with four points in the five games he's played. Brodziak has three. It's not the fuzzy-cheeked kids who have been the problem.

"Six games is a good enough feeling out period of time for the veterans," said forward Shawn Horcoff. "At the same time, you don't want to be holding the sticks too tight, either. It's still early in the season.

"The young guys have come in and been great since camp and been able to continue that. On top of that, we definitely need some veteran presence to step up, to pick our games up and be better."

Hemsky, blanked in the home-and-home series against Vancouver, has just three assists and is minus-3 in his first half-dozen games. Torres, who inked a new deal in the off-season, has one goal. Stoll, who missed the end of last season with post-concussion symptoms, has one assist.

"Those guys have come in and played well," said Stoll. "It's up to some of us to step up and play well now, too, and show why we've been in this league."

Edmonton's power play, ranked 27th last season, started 0-for-18 and sits dead-last in the NHL at 1-for-25, despite the notable off-season additions of Sheldon Souray, Dustin Penner, Joni Pitkanen and Dick Tarnstrom.

Souray is tied for the team lead with 16 shots, but his lone goal came at even strength. Penner has an even-strength goal but nothing with the man advantage. Pitkanen doesn't have a point on the power play. Neither does Tarnstrom, who doesn't even have a shot.

"We have to start being more productive offensively," MacTavish said. "It is the individual, but nobody can do it by themselves. Everybody has to work collectively.

"Maybe that's what we're lacking a little bit is that synergy, that chemistry lines have to create. You have to work with one another."

Stoll, who got the shootout winner against San Jose opening night and counted his only point with an assist on a short-handed goal by Cogliano in Saturday's 4-1 loss in Vancouver, knows he has to be better. In that regard, he's got plenty of company.

"If everybody is producing, you're winning," he said. "That's how we're going to turn it around, too, by having everybody going, not just certain guys."

Notes: Captain Ethan Moreau, out since pre-season after being hit high on the left foot by an Adrian Aucoin shot, will be out at least another week and definitely won't play in Phoenix. While it was first thought Moreau had a bad bruise, an MRI has revealed a hairline fracture.

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