EDMONTON - Coach Craig MacTavish was the first to admit the Edmonton Oilers looked better in the standings than on the ice when they began the season with four straight wins.
After four consecutive losses, the latest coming in a 1-0 overtime defeat against the Boston Bruins on Monday, the looks and the results are no longer deceiving.
While excellent goaltending and a red-hot power play masked a multitude of flaws - slow starts, a lack of shots and defensive mistakes - in those first four games, even Monday's 35-save effort by Dwayne Roloson wasn't enough to mute the obvious.
The Oilers just aren't very good right now.
"I've been very patient to this point," MacTavish said Tuesday after putting the team through a brisk workout at Rexall Place. "Now, I want to see results.
"The work you put into your game pays off. When you cut corners, there's an overall reflection in your game. We have to play the game the right way."
MacTavish laid into the Oilers after the loss to the Bruins. It wasn't the way he had hoped to finish up a homestand before leaving for a seven-game road trip - their longest this season.
As they hit the road, there are many troubling trends developing.
The 4-3-1 Oilers have scored just four goals in the four losses, and three of them came in a 6-3 setback against Vancouver. They've been shut out twice and are 1-for-20 on the power play in their last five games.
Overall, the Oilers have been outshot in six of eight games - a carryover from the pre-season when they were outshot in six of seven games. They've scored just 17 goals.
"We were finding ways to win," MacTavish said of the first four games. "It looked like the formula was you get outplayed, you get outshot almost 2-1 and your goaltender stands on his head.
"That's not a formula that's sustainable. We've had just some horrific starts. We're cutting corners in the tough areas of the game. We've got to get back to the details part, the tough part."
After losses to Chicago, Colorado and the Canucks on a three-game road trip, MacTavish expected a robust effort against Boston in a game that could set a tone for their upcoming 12-day road trip.
He didn't get it. Had it not been for Roloson, who has made two starts and has yet to have his teammates score a goal for him, the Bruins would have waltzed to victory. At one point in the first period, the shots were 15-5 for Boston.
"We've got to create some offence, obviously, and simplify our game," said captain Ethan Moreau. "Right now, our skill isn't really shining through, so we have to just play a real simple game, get pucks to the net and try to create offence that way."
Despite juggling his lines, MacTavish hasn't managed to coax more offence out of his top-six forwards.
Dustin Penner doesn't have a point since scoring two goals in a 3-2 win over Colorado in the season-opener. Erik Cole has just two points while Shawn Horcoff has one goal in his last six games after getting a pair in the first two. Sam Gagner has one assist.
"One of the differences from years past is we have the skill to be a real good team," said Sheldon Souray. "We have one of the best skill-set teams in the league.
"Sometimes, you forget the game is hard. You have to earn your space. You have to take a step back before you takes two steps forward. It's a hard league, a hard game. Things aren't going to come easy. The last few games have been a not-so-friendly reminder of that."
Souray says the team has to work on playing well for a full 60 minutes.
"Right now, we're really good for two periods, one period we're awful," he said. "You have to dominate a game or two. You have to beat a good team, get your confidence and keep working at it."
The Oilers could have started 1-3 but Mathieu Garon backstopped three wins and rookie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers another. Now, Garon has cooled off. So has the power play, which was 5-for-13 the first three games. That's a lethal combination with this trip looming as part of a schedule that has the Oilers playing 12 of their first 15 away from home.
"We're a much better team," MacTavish said. "Part of coaching is trying to get your team to play to a high level of expectation. I've got a realistic level for this team to play to and we haven't got close to that level yet.
"I'm not asking more than they're capable of. I've seen enough to know what this team is capable of and we're not at that level. We're not even close to that level right now."