Sports

NHL Oilers regroup after poor play, injuries stun them out of starting blocks

Ottawa Senators' Dion Phaneuf (2) battles for the puck with Edmonton Oilers' Oscar Klefbom (77) and Zack Kassian (44) during first period NHL hockey action in Edmonton on Saturday, October 14, 2017. The Oilers hit the practice ice Monday looking to find their mojo after a disheartening start magnified by the weight of great expectations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Ottawa Senators' Dion Phaneuf (2) battles for the puck with Edmonton Oilers' Oscar Klefbom (77) and Zack Kassian (44) during first period NHL hockey action in Edmonton on Saturday, October 14, 2017. The Oilers hit the practice ice Monday looking to find their mojo after a disheartening start magnified by the weight of great expectations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers hit the practice ice Monday looking to regroup from a rocky start aggravated by the weight of great expectations.

"It might be a matter of guys maybe gripping their sticks a little too tight," winger Milan Lucic said afterward in the dressing room at Rogers Place.

"Things get magnified a little bit just because of the pressure and expectations that came along with this season.

"But you've got to be realistic … our play just hasn't been good enough."

The Oilers are on a three-game losing streak and will host the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday before hitting the road for games against Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The squad, led by scoring champ Connor McDavid, came within one game of the NHL's final four last spring, and pre-season forecasts this year have them breaking through and challenging for the Stanley Cup.

Right now they're 1-3, have scored eight goals, and allowed 14.

Head coach Todd McLellan said the problem in practice is deciding what to try to fix because everything needs work.

"We know we've got to score more goals, we've got to be more aggressive in and around the net, we have to be better coming out of our end, we've got to do things better in the neutral zone, (and) you've got your power play and your penalty kill," he said.

"When you're chasing your game …it's hard to allot time to all the areas."

The things that broke just right for the Oilers last season are coming back to challenge them this year.

They avoided injuries to their core players in 2016-17 but are now having to adjust and adapt.

Forward Leon Draisaitl, the eighth-leading scorer last year and wingman on McDavid's lethal top line, missed Saturday's 6-1 loss to Ottawa with concussion symptoms and has been ruled out for Carolina. McLellan said he'll be reassessed after that.

Sophomore Drake Caggiula, penciled in as a top six forward, is out with an undisclosed injury.

The defence is still trying to find the right combination to replace versatile veteran Andrej Sekera, who blew out his knee in the playoffs and still doesn't have a timeline to return.

Last year, a number of players had career years, led by goaltender Cam Talbot, who tied for the league lead with 42 wins while racking up seven shutouts.

Talbot, by his own admission, is struggling off the hop this year, making questionable reads that put him ever so slightly out of position, but just enough for opposing snipers to take advantage.

He's been pulled in two of the last three games, and sports an .880 save percentage and a 3.96 GAA.

The wingers are not getting it done. Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Strome, Zack Kassian and Mark Letestu have zero goals collectively.

McDavid is being McDavid, launching the year with a hat trick against Calgary. He leads the team with five points. He is expected to have Maroon and rookie Kailer Yamamoto back on his line Tuesday.

Special teams are a mess.

The Oilers are 1 for 12 with the man advantage (ranked 26th) and have allowed five goals on 17 penalty kill chances heading into NHL action Monday, worst in the NHL.

They are getting the shots, averaging almost 39 a game, putting them second behind Florida (42) but they need to be of higher quality.

"We need to get some production from our wingers, get a little hungrier in and around the paint," said McLellan.

"As a group we've got to tighten up our checking responsibilities," he added.

"It will take us months to get our penalty kill back up to where we want it to be just because the numbers start (out) so poor."

Letestu said the players are getting re-focused, and are not panicky.

"We know what's at stake in the next few games. We can't dig ourselves a hole," he said.

"As a group we know we're confident we can come out of it. It just starts with our work ethic."

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