Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, right, from Russia, stares at the puck as Calgary Flames\' Tom Kostopoulos tries to swat it past him during first period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, April 6, 2011.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CALGARY - Edmonton Oilers rookie Jordan Eberle had higher expectations than playing on a last-place team in his first NHL season.
"Obviously it sucks losing," said Eberle following the Oilers' 6-1 loss to the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday night. "It's never fun."
With the loss, the Oilers officially clinched last place in the league and the best shot at landing the first overall pick in June’s 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
"At some point you have to start winning though," said Oilers forward Andrew Cogliano, who has suffered through four non-playoff seasons with the Oilers so far. "You can't just keep getting high draft picks and losing. You have to start building and start winning and start putting a winning team together."
Despite the blowout loss to the Flames, Eberle said the Oilers had gained confidence from back-to-back wins over the league-leading Canucks, 4-1 in Vancouver on Saturday and 2-0 at home on Tuesday.
"For the most part, I think we've excelled as a team and gotten better, said Eberle, who has scored a team-leading five game-winning goals this season. "It's going to make us better. I know we're not going to go through this again."
Heading into Edmonton's final two games of the season, Eberle is tied for the team lead in scoring at 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) with injured forwards Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky.
While one more point will put him atop that scoring list, Eberle would rather have helped Edmonton (25-44-11) win more games.
"I don't think this is near anywhere we wanted to be as far as points and wins," said the 20-year-old forward, who the Oilers picked in the first round, 22nd overall, of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "We'll obviously take this feeling and use it to motivate us next year."
Fellow rookie Magnus Paajarvi was the lone Oiler to score on Wednesday when he took a pass from Cogliano and buried it behind Miikka Kiprusoff for his 15th goal of the season.
Despite the fact that it was his sixth point in five games against the Flames this season, Paajarvi was upset that the Oilers couldn't build upon their two-game winning streak.
"It's not fun at all," Paajarvi said. "It's not acceptable. We didn't show up too much today."
Paajarvi refused to write the loss off as a product of playing back-to-back nights.
"If you're a professional hockey player it shouldn't be an excuse," Paajarvi said. "Sure you get fatigued and you get tired. That’s when you’ve got to smarten up and try to find efficient ways to really skate and have your energy as high as you can. I think that goes a long way to being a professional.”
Although he only turns 20 on April 12, Paajarvi has shown Edmonton coach Tom Renney that he already has the mindset of a much older veteran.
"He's just getting better and better," said Renney, who also commended Eberle and Hall for their willingness to learn. "I love the fact that these guys, they take it from their coach. When it’s coming to them, they have no problem taking whatever type of correction is required, the discipline that goes along with that (and) the accountability that goes along with that."
Good attitudes and moral victories like a pair of wins over Vancouver aside, Renney said that the Oilers have to learn how to put in a consistent effort over an 82-game schedule to end their five-season playoff drought.
"What we've got to do is continue to realize that it doesn't stop there," he said. "We've got to keep going until we're actually in the playoffs and understand that it even goes further than that if you want to contend for the Cup."