EDMONTON - As match-ups go, the suddenly struggling Edmonton Oilers couldn't find a less favourable one than Saturday's showdown against the Washington Capitals if they tried.
Losers of four straight games at Rexall Place after a 6-3 loss to Nashville Thursday, the Oilers have slipped to 8-7-2 at home. One of the main reasons for that is they can't keep the puck out of their own net. Edmonton ranks 25th in the NHL with 109 goals against.
So what do the Oilers get in Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals? Nothing less than a team with the second-best road record in the NHL at 11-5-3 and a high-powered offence that has scored a league-leading 124 goals.
"They (Washington) have three lines of skill, three lines of guys who can really put up points," said Shawn Horcoff. "I think they've got five or six 10-goal scorers already. It's going to be a big challenge for us.
"It's breakdowns in the defensive zone that are costing us right now. They're breakdowns that are resulting in prime offensive chances, not just second or third opportunities."
When the Oilers reeled off five straight wins on the road with victories in Detroit, Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay and St. Louis, it looked like they'd have some momentum with four of their last five games before the Christmas break at home.
Key mistakes in 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday and more of the same as the Oilers blew a 2-0 lead in the loss to the Predators have changed all that.
"Obviously, we're not happy about the way we're playing right now," said goaltender Jeff Deslauriers. "But we played well on the road and we know we're capable of playing like that.
"We have to get back into that mentality. It's up to us to upgrade our play. We've done it before and we can do it again."
With Nikolai Khabibulin out with a back injury since Nov. 18, Deslauriers has made 13 straight starts. While Deslauriers was on top of his game during the win streak on the road, he wasn't particularly sharp against Los Angeles or Nashville.
"When we were at our best we were keeping things simple and doing the little things," Deslauriers said.
"We were avoiding turnovers. We were avoiding rebounds by myself. The past two games, those things have re-appeared. We've maybe lost our focus on that part of the game. We have to re-group."
Suffice to say, a repeat of the same mental mistakes, turnovers and untimely defensive lapses against the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin could produce truly ugly results.
"He presents challenges," defenceman Steve Staios said of Ovechkin. "He's looking for offence all the time, so you've got to be aware every time he's on the ice.
"Any time you play with that physicality, it brings a different element. As a top player, he brings every facet of the game."
Against the Predators, Edmonton's defence didn't give Deslauriers much help around the net, losing too many puck battles and allowing Nashville forwards too much time and space.
"We're just not getting good, solid defensive play and helping Deslauriers out there," Horcoff said.
"He's played lots of games and we need to make sure that, in the defensive zone, we're solid back there for him and give him as much help as we can."