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Edmonton Oilers are struggling with tough stretch of games ahead

The Canadian Press
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Edmonton Oilers' Ladislav Smid, left, of Czech Republic, sweeps a shot from the Los Angeles Kings away from goalie Jeff Deslauriers during first period NHL hockey action in Edmonton on Wednesday, November 25, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Ulan Author: The Hockey News

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Edmonton Oilers are struggling with tough stretch of games ahead

The Canadian Press
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EDMONTON - As bad as things are for the Edmonton Oilers after a 3-1 loss to Los Angeles Wednesday, their circumstances could still get worse before they get better.

The Oilers, 4-10-2 in their last 16 games and already riddled by injuries and struggling to score goals, lost Ales Hemsky in the second period against the Kings on a hit from behind by Michal Handzus.

On Friday, they host the top team in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks, who will arrive still stinging from a 7-2 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. Then, the Oilers play six straight games on the road, where they're 2-7-2 so far.

However, coach Pat Quinn doesn't want anyone to get ahead of themselves.

"We can't think in terms of six or seven games," he said, when asked about what stands to be a daunting stretch. "We've got San Jose. We really have to concentrate hard. We know they're a hell of a hockey team.

"We're under-manned a little bit, but we still have to really focus on our continuing to develop to be a team. We'll get a challenge tomorrow, there's not any question about it, and the road trip's not going to be any easier."

Hemsky, second in team scoring to Dustin Penner with 22 points despite playing with a sore shoulder, is out with an upper-body injury after the hit by Handzus, who was penalized for boarding. Hemsky was scheduled to have an MRI on Thursday.

Quinn now has to piece his lines together without Hemsky, Mike Comrie (mononucleosis), Fernando Pisani (colitis), Ryan Stone (knee) and Robert Nilsson (concussion). Defencemen Denis Grebeshkov (knee) and Taylor Chorney (ankle), as well as starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (back) are also out.

Of Quinn's healthy forwards, Only Penner, with 26 points, has produced with any consistency. Sam Gagner has one goal in his last 15 games. Andrew Cogliano has one goal in his last 19. Patrick O'Sullivan has two goals in his last 17 games.

"We're inconsistent," Quinn said. "I wouldn't call that a funk. A funk is when you establish a consistency where you know where your level is and you're not playing at your level.

"If there's anything consistent about it, it's that we are inconsistent. We're challenging ourselves to learn and get better and do things a lot better than we've been doing.

"Then, when we establish what kind of team we think we are on a consistent basis and we get off our pace or our expectations, then you can say that's a funk. We're still grinding to find out a lot about ourselves."

After a 6-2-1 start to the season, the 12th-place Oilers haven't won back-to-back games in over a month, dating back to wins over Vancouver Oct. 19 and Columbus Oct. 22.

"We've had a lot of tests so far this year with injuries and sickness," Gagner said. "They're just going to keep coming."

On Friday, they get the Sharks, who lead the Western Conference at 16-6-4 despite getting thrashed by the Blackhawks. Then, it's games in Vancouver, Detroit, Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

"It's the NHL. It's a tough league for a reason," Gagner said. "We know it's going to be a tough test for us coming up, especially with the way San Jose got beat the last game.

"We know they're going to come in with a lot to prove and our focus has to be there and our intensity has to be there."

One subplot, at least for fans, is Friday marks Dany Heatley's first appearance in Edmonton since he turned down a trade to the Oilers last summer by invoking a no-trade clause while with the Ottawa Senators.

"I'm sure Edmonton fans, obviously, don't like him too much," said Cogliano, who was packaged with Penner and Ladislav Smid in the attempt to land Heatley.

"I honestly don't care about Dany Heatley or the situation. I've got things to worry about now about my game, making sure I'm a good hockey player and moving myself in the right direction."

Quinn feels the same. He's got too much on his plate to worry about the Heatley factor.

"It's one of those things that got made up bigger than it probably should have," Quinn said. "It was an attempt to bring Heatley to this hockey club. It didn't happen. You move on. It should be gone. It doesn't matter. He's a good player. He's a good kid, but he plays for someone else. We don't care about that."

Notes: With Hemsky out, the Oilers recalled forwards Ryan O'Marra and Colin McDonald from Springfield of the AHL Thursday and sent Liam Reddox back to the Falcons.

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Edmonton Oilers are struggling with tough stretch of games ahead