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Jim Matheson, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Monday, January 15, 2007
Weak offence, questionable defence leaves fans wondering what happened to the slick Oil of seven months ago

EDMONTON - If there's one thing you can say about the Edmonton Oilers today, four games into the second half of the season, it's this: They're decidedly average.

Or worse.

The numbers don't lie.

They're a .500 hockey team that hasn't won more than two games in a row since early December, and their noses would be pressed up against the glass yelling 'lemme in' if the playoffs started today.

They're only three points out, but the fact remains they're 10th in the Western Conference, and they've beaten just one team (San Jose) in the last month (15 games) that would be in the playoffs. They've really skidded, losing seven straight to teams in their Northwest neighbourhood -- a telling sign that they may need more than a shuffling of the deck chairs on their leaky boat.

And they have two more games against Northwest teams (in Minnesota on Tuesday and the Flames here on Saturday) in the next three. To rub salt into the sore, they played hard Saturday night and gave Calgary only five or six top-drawer scoring chances, but still got beaten by the Flames, who've won four in a row WITHOUT Jarome Iginla.

This is not a pretty picture, folks. It's PG (parental guidance) viewing.

The bright spots: Craig MacTavish's Oilers are 2-0 against the Sharks, 2-1 against the Red Wings, and they gained a small measure of revenge by beating the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes here. Obviously, they know how to get the job done in some yardstick games, but not nearly enough.

Jarret Stoll, Ryan Smyth and Petr Sykora have 43 of the team's 125 goals. And their penalty-kill has been terrific (fourth overall, and in 25 games they haven't allowed a power-play goal).

But it looks, today, like they're just not good enough with this cast. They're saved because they're in a division with no powerhouse, and they played well for much of the last five games (against Vancouver, L.A., San Jose, Minnesota and Calgary), but emerged with a 2-3 record. Again, not a healthy sign.

And they can't use injuries as an excuse like, say, Dallas. Nope, Edmonton has lost 72 man games to injury and 38 of those rest on Ethan Moreau's repaired shoulder.

Here are some disturbing things to consider. If you haven't noticed, you can bet MacTavish and GM Kevin Lowe are paying attention:

- The Oilers have won only eight times in 23 games since their longest winning streak (five games) ended back when Chris Pronger was here and the Ducks prevailed in overtime on Nov. 28.

- They've dropped five of their last

six games at Rexall Place, and are 7-8-2 after roaring out of the gate winning their first six at home. Their only recent home win was against the Florida Panthers, but they've won only five road games.

- Twenty teams have more goals than the Oilers, four in their division, which really hurts. What happened to that offence that looked gold-plated, three lines deep, on paper? They have nobody in the top 50 in the league in points. Petr Sykora is the closest, on the fringes of the 50. But they have nobody who shows up on the various individual lists: assists, power-play points, shots, shorthanded points.

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