By Jim Matheson

The WHL season is a long and winding road, much like the B.C. path the Edmonton Oil Kings travelled by bus Thursday from Kelowna to Prince George, one of the league’s outposts.

“Eight hours and we’re supposed to hit some snow, too,” said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal.

Bad weather — it figures. It has hardly been clear sailing for the Oil Kings, the 2011-12 WHL champions, who play the Cougars in Prince George on Friday and Saturday.

Sure, they’re 11-5-1-2 about a quarter of the way through the season, but it’s been one step forward and one back. Case in point: They put in their best night’s work of the season on Tuesday, handing the top-ranked Kamloops Blazers just their second regulation loss in 20 games. Then they go and lose 3-2 Wednesday night against the Kelowna Rockets, one of the WHL’s surprising clubs in 2012-13.

In the last four road games — Prince Albert, Swift Current, Kamloops and Kelowna — the Oil Kings have scored just eight goals. Fortunately, they won two games by identical 2-1 scores behind the terrific netminding of Laurent Brossoit.

They also lost winger Mitch Moroz, who is scheduled to play in the Subway Super Series against the touring Russians in Vancouver and Victoria next week, to an upper-body injury in Wednesday’s loss.

Moroz was doing what he was supposed to be doing: checking somebody.

“Mitch was following through on a hit. We’ll know more when we get into PG (Prince George) and he gets checked out,” said Laxdal. ”For now, he’s day-to-day ... if he’s only out a couple of days with this, he’ll be fine for the series, any more than that they may have to make adjustments.”

Laxdal admits his team’s “a little bit spotty right now, you’re trying to find what motivates this group of players.”

Last year, the Oil Kings surprised people and won the league championship. This year, they’re under the gun to get back to the Memorial Cup. They currently sit third in the Eastern Conference standings behind the Calgary Hitmen and Prince Albert Raiders and are seventh overall in WHL points.

“Every year, your group of players changes and they respond in different ways,” said Laxdal, who’s trying to find the right buttons to push.

“We’re good enough to go on a bit of a tear here. We’re better than our record shows. In our five (regulation) losses, we’ve given points away,” he said.

The one certainty for Laxdal is that there’s very little margin for error in the WHL this season.

“There’s lots of teams going well right now. Look at Portland (last year’s WHL championship runners-up at 13-3-1) and Kamloops (17-2-0-1) with their great start. Then you see Calgary, and Lethbridge is 11-7, (and Prince Albert has beaten the Oil Kings twice) in our conference,” said Laxdal.

“You see the evolution of youngsters coming through the league where they grow and they get more mature. Teams get better. You’re always looking over your shoulder at teams chasing you.”

True, but the Oil Kings are beating themselves as well.

Brossoit’s game has picked up. He has only given up six goals his last three starts, dropping his goals-against average to 2.64 with a .902 save percentage. He’ll likely get the start in both Super Series games against the Russians as he battles Ontario’s Jordan Binnington, a St. Louis Blues Blues draft pick, to see who backs up Malcolm Subban on Canada’s world junior team at the world championship in Ufa, Russia, starting Boxing Day.

“He was outstanding in two games (Swift Current and Kamloops) and gave us a chance to win in Kelowna. They’re a really tough defensive team, maybe the best one I’ve seen.”

Henrik Samuelsson might be the Oil Kings best forward with 19 points in 19 games this season.

“He’s been our workhorse. He’s a puck magnet,” said Laxdal.

However, Curtis Lazar, one of Laxdal’s top-six forwards, is struggling with just 13 points, He’s expected to go in the top 10 to 12 in the June 2013 NHL entry draft.

“He hasn’t connected on his opportunities. I think he misses Stephane Legault (broken foot) on that line,” said Laxdal.

At the end of the Oil Kings’ 2-1 win over Kamloops on Tuesday, Oil Kings defenceman Keegan Lowe’s dander got up when Blazers forward Tim Bozon spat on him.

Lowe was assessed 24 penalty minutes — cross-checking, roughing minors and two misconducts. One of the misconducts was for kicking Bozon’s helmet away, which was on the ice. Bozon, who is third in WHL scoring, was handed a one-game suspension.

“Keegan plays with his heart on his sleeve every night ... that’s the way the dad (Oilers president Kevin Lowe) played. You can tell the nut didn’t fall too far from the tree,” said Laxdal.

“I’d like to see how hard he plays rubbing off on some of our other guys.”