Oilers’ veterans found wanting in slump

EDMONTON — The kids have been more than all right during a slump that’s seen the Edmonton Oilers lose six of their last seven. It’s the old guys who are struggling to contribute on the score sheet.

EDMONTON — The kids have been more than all right during a slump that’s seen the Edmonton Oilers lose six of their last seven. It’s the old guys who are struggling to contribute on the score sheet.

That’s how it played out Monday night as Edmonton lost its fourth straight, 3-2 at home to Detroit, with rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and linemates Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall each registering points to keep hot streaks going, while Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky were blanked yet again.

Youth is being served and the veterans are wanting.

“You only put as much pressure on as you want to take,” Smyth said. “In that regard, when you’re losing, it puts the onus on everybody but more so on the leaders, for sure.

“We take pride in winning and we take pride in our game. In this situation, there’s times when the young kids have played well and fought through and given us a chance. Those sorts of things happen. The adversity you fight through as a team and as a player, you’ve got to overcome.”

Nugent-Hopkins had an assist against the Red Wings to give him 10 points in his last 10 games. Eberle scored his 13th goal and has points in 13 of his last 15 games. Hall added an assist to give him four points in three games since returning from a shoulder injury.

Horcoff, Smyth and Hemsky, meanwhile, have struggled mightily over the last seven games, combining for just three assists as the Oilers have faded to 13th place in the Western Conference with a 14-16-3 record as they prepare to host Minnesota on Thursday.

“That’s where we’re at right now,” Horcoff said. “It’s the old saying where at the end of a losing streak, you’re losing games you probably should be winning. That’s kind of the way we feel right now.

“For us, it’s a matter of trying to stick with it and really try to stay positive. I’ve been around the game long enough to know if you dwell on the negatives it can really get you down. We’re going to do what we can to try to get ourselves out of this.”

Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle lead the Oilers with identical numbers, 13-21-34. Hall has 9-13-22, despite missing eight games. On the flipside, Smyth and Horcoff have gone cold after hot starts. Hemsky, coming off shoulder surgery, has yet to heat up.

Smyth has just one assist in the last seven games and no goals in his last 11, Horcoff has one assist in the last seven, and Hemsky is stalled at three goals and 11 points in his 22 games.

“This is not their first rodeo, so I think they’re doing OK with that,” coach Tom Renney said of his veteran trio. “Of course, they feel very responsible for where we are, and leadership should feel that way. That being said, they continue to work hard in other aspects of their game.”

When a team is winning as the Oilers were when they started the season 9-3-2, stretches like Horcoff, Smyth and Hemsky are going through now aren’t the focus. It’s quite the opposite after four straight losses.

“You can dissect every one of those guy’s games right now and I can tell you exactly why they’re doing good things for us,” Renney said. “At the end of the day, for whatever reason, after the equal sign, it’s supposed to say points.

“For me, the most important thing of all is the team points. I know that’s cliche, but these guys are doing other things that certainly suggest good leadership in times of trouble and tough times for them, personally. I think that’s important, based on what we’re trying to build here.”

At practice Tuesday, Smyth, who began the season with nine goals in the team’s first 15 games, was one of the last players off the ice. That’s standard procedure for Smyth, whether he’s running hot or cold.

“You just keep working through it,” Smyth said. “The one thing you control is your work ethic.

“This game is all about confidence and trying to be consistent. That’s the nature of the game. There’s games that are good and some that aren’t so good at all, so you’ve got to find ways to keep an even keel.”

Horcoff, Smyth and Hemsky had their looks against Detroit, combining for seven shots and some quality chances, but they didn’t get rewarded for a solid night’s work. That’s how it’s going for them.

“I’d take 82 games like the way we played last night,” Horcoff said. “At the end of the year, you’re going to have a pretty good year.

“You just need that one goal to get the monkey off the back. As veteran players, you’re looked upon to try to lead the guys out of situations like this. We welcome those challenges.”