Keepin' the streak alive

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- What have you done for us lately?

With Edmonton Oilers fans having an entire lockout year to ponder that question, it's probably no surprise Raffi Torres has taken it to heart and started the 2005-06 NHL season like a house ablaze.

The question for Torres, who faced the Los Angeles Kings last night with four goals in his first three games, is simple: how long he can fan the fire in what's been a ridiculously hot start?

Torres, you'll remember, busted out of the blocks much the same way in the AHL with the Edmonton Road Runners last season, then did next-to-nothing down the stretch, prompting people to wonder if his 20-goal output with the Oilers in 2003-04 was a one-shot deal, a fluke.

What's up, Raffi?

"I focused on improving my game over the summer," said Torres.

"I skated a few more days, went to the gym and tried to get stronger. I wanted to make sure I started this season by giving myself every edge."

Torres celebrated his 24th birthday last Saturday with two goals in a 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver. He potted another pair, including an empty-netter, in Monday's 4-2 victory over Anaheim.

Calling Torres streaky is to understate. The way last season unfolded only served to punctuate that fact.

ABSOLUTELY HORRID

After scoring 12 goals in his first 20 games with the Road Runners, Torres was absolutely horrid the rest of the way, adding just nine more in the next 47 games.

"I wasn't happy with the way the season ended," Torres said of his stint in the AHL. "I kind of lost track and lost focus. I was happy to be playing, but I had too many bad slumps and got into some bad habits."

His touch around the net aside, some fans questioned whether Torres phoned it in with the Road Runners after the NHL season was cancelled. That's not a question coach Craig MacTavish entertains for very long.

"He's certainly not a lazy kid," MacTavish said. "He's played great. I think (Monday) was maybe his best game.

'GREAT SKILL LEVEL'

"We all know he's got great skill level and he provides a physical element. He does a lot of things well. I don't come into many games wondering what his level of commitment is going to be."

MacTavish has Torres playing left wing on a line with Michael Peca and Ales Hemsky.

While that trio is still a work in progress, Torres has been banging the body and bulling to the net with all the gusto you'd expect. So far ...

"Some nights, as you expect with young players, he'll make some mistakes," MacTavish said.

"I never question his intention or his work ethic.

"Raffi's started very well. The (challenge) for Raffi will be to sustain it. He couldn't sustain it last year."

With Ryan Smyth out with a sprained MCL, scoring from the left side falls to Torres and Ethan Moreau, who hit the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career in 2003-04.

Bring it on, Torres says.

"I come to the rink wanting to prove my critics wrong," said Torres, who signed a two-year deal worth $1.750 million in August.

"I thought about that pretty much every day this summer.

"I thought about camp every day from the day that I signed my contract.

"I thought about showing people last season wasn't me. I'm working hard to prove that."


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