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Quick-draw artists

Mike Peca (pictured) and Marty Reasoner are part of the Edmonton Oilers' 'lefty-righty' combination...

Mike Peca (pictured) and Marty Reasoner are part of the Edmonton Oilers' 'lefty-righty' combination in the faceoff circle. (Toronto Sun File/Ernest Doroszuk)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

Draw!

It's the code of the west in the New NHL.

If you aren't quick on the draw, you're not going to be able to shoot down all those lowdown, yellow bellied, lily-livered, dirty rotten varmints, gunslingers, bandits, Coyotes, etc.

Arguably the most dramatic difference involved with the new rules, coaches are discovering, is how much of a factor puck possession has become in the new game.

It's not rocket science. If you have the puck, the other team takes the penalties trying to get it from you.

The way they're calling penalties ... The best way to get the puck is to win the faceoffs.

It's the name of the game now. And the Oilers are good at it.

It goes a long way to explain why the Oilers go into tonight's game against the Dallas Stars leading the Northwest Division.

60.9% AGAINST THE AVALANCHE

The Oilers owned the puck in their first two home games, winning 60.9% of the faceoffs against Colorado and 60.3% against Vancouver.

The Oilers won half of their faceoffs in a win against Anaheim on the road.

"The last game was the first game we were under 50% and I don't think it's any fluke that that's the game we lost," said coach Craig MacTavish.

"If we continue to win 60% of our faceoffs at home and keep it over 50% on the road, we're going to win a lot of hockey games.

"We've understood from the beginning what puck possession is going to mean this year.

"It's so much different now. It's always been important, but never this important.

"Now when you have the puck, there are seams out there and open space. Now when you have possession there is so much more of a chance to make something of it. There aren't five guys cordoning it off.

"In our first game against Colorado we had the puck most of the night and only took three penalties.

"The best way to keep from taking the penalties they're calling now is to have the puck and watch the penalties go the other way.

"We've been really good at it in both home games so far," said MacTavish, who is excited to watch how his team will do tonight against Dallas if for no other reason than the Stars won a lot of playoff games against the Oilers by dominating in the faceoff circle.

"Dominating the circle is a big part of physical domination up the middle.

"You can't get dominated at the centre position," said MacTavish.

"I really look at match-ups up the middle," he says, moreso than matching lines as such. "You win the match-ups in the middle, it has a trickle-down effect.

"It's really set up well for us. We have two lefties and two righties," he says of Michael Peca and Jarret Stoll who draw one way and Shawn Horcoff and Marty Reasoner who draw the other.

Stoll is 62.5%, Peca 58.5% and Shawn Horcoff 51% to lead the way.

As a team, the Oilers are at 54.1% in the faceoff circle so far and cursing themselves for the letdown in L.A. where they won 27 and lost 34.

"We've been pretty good at it so far," says Horcoff. "We really let down at it against L.A.. But I don't think we'll have many games where we aren't 50-60%.

"It's not just winning the draw. You rarely see guys win them clean anymore. A lot of it is who gets to it first after the draw. That's where we let down in L.A.

EMPHASIS ON POSSESSION

"We're putting a huge emphasis on keeping possession of the puck with these new rules. It's giving us confidence, too. We're not making panic plays. Now we'll turn back and go again instead of throwing it away like we used to as we worked our way up the ice. We concentrate on keeping the puck and wearing the other team down."

Peca says winning the faceoffs and having puck possession now means more than ever.

"It either creates those penalties or gives you chances with the open ice."

A lot of teams are looking for their identities in the 'New NHL.' Peca says the Oilers have already found theirs.

"We're a puck-possession team."


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