EDMONTON - With their NHL playoff hopes slim at best, the Edmonton Oilers say now is when they have to show the professionalism and character that will enable them to finish the season on a positive note.
Just a couple weeks ago, the Oilers looked like they had a chance to be in the playoff mix. However, the team has struggled of late and is a longshot to make the post-season with just eight games left to play.
"We know the situation we're in but we have to keep it positive," forward Jordan Eberle said after practice Friday. "As soon as you start getting negative or guys start wallowing it just gets worse. We've gone through it the last couple of years. We have to stay as positive as we can.
"Don't get me wrong, guys are definitely down in here. It sucks. Any time you're put into a situation where your backs are against the wall it's tough, but we have to have a good push tomorrow."
The 16-17-7 Oilers host the Calgary Flames on Saturday, the first of six home games they play among their final eight. Entering Friday's games, Edmonton sat 12th in the Western Conference with 39 points, five back of eighth-place Detroit.
The competition will be tough down the stretch.
Of the Oilers' eight remaining games, only Calgary and Colorado are below them in the standings. Four of Edmonton's six home games are against teams with decent road records: Anaheim (twice), Chicago and Vancouver.
Edmonton is a mediocre 8-11-3 on the road this season. The Oilers will play their remaining road games at Colorado and Minnesota.
One of Edmonton's biggest problems has been an inability to play consistent hockey for three full periods. The Oilers looked solid during a recent five-game winning streak that moved them into eighth place.
But that momentum was snuffed by the current four-game skid and they have fallen back down the standings.
"We're in an extremely tough spot but it's not over for us yet," said goalie Devan Dubynk. "We need to bring the energy, not sulk or whine about it. We need to understand that we need to change the way we're playing to win games and we have to have energy to do that.
"Part of being a professional is learning how to get back on the right track, how to get energy, create energy when it's not an easy thing to do. That's character, that's how you get to this level and how you're successful at this level."
The Oilers will also be without the services of forward Ales Hemsky for about a week as he nurses a nagging foot injury.
Coach Ralph Krueger put the club through an up-tempo, spirited and enthusiastic practice Friday.
He said it's important everyone realizes they have to make each of the remaining games valuable and not worry about the standings.
"We need to stay small picture, make very game valuable and see where we are in a week," he said. "But we're also working on a process, on the fact April needed to be meaningful for the Edmonton Oilers again. We got to that point and we're enjoying the process, even though the difficult times like right now. There's good spirit, good morale in the dressing room.
"Expectations in our dressing room have changed dramatically, from one year ago to today. We're going into every single game expecting to win and we feel extreme pain when we don't."