It's Peca's time

Edmonton Oilers' free-agent signing Michael Peca has struggled to start the season and head coach...

Edmonton Oilers' free-agent signing Michael Peca has struggled to start the season and head coach Craig MacTavish expects more from the NHL veteran. (Edmonton Sun File Photo/Tim Smith)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:07 PM ET

DENVER -- Mike Peca used to wear a C.

Now it's his grade.

Asked to evaluate Edmonton's $4-million man yesterday, head coach Craig MacTavish said Peca's play this season has been "very average.''

It's hard to argue that one. With one goal and three assists in nine games, the newly acquired centre hasn't come close to delivering the bang they expected for the bucks.

"He's got to play better,'' said MacTavish. "The time for him feeling his way in, learning the situation and what we need out of him is over. We need more intensity out of him. We need a better performance out of him, and he knows that.''

Yes he does.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the guy to help score goals and set goals up,'' Peca said after practice yesterday. "I take as much responsibility in linemate Ales (Hemsky) not having a goal as I take in my only having one goal.

"In some respects Ales and I are trying to find each other, a comfort level. We're not sure of a lot of things we're doing out there with each other, if we're going the right way for each other.

'A LITTLE TOUGHER'

"We're not winning so it's a little tougher to deal with, but at the end of the day we still have a lot of confidence in each other and our ability.''

As a checking centre on Long Island, Peca made his living by shutting down opposition guns and killing penalties.

Any offence was a bonus.

But they're counting on him to carry a lot more of the offence here.

"When I was checking the Jagrs or the Sundins, it seemed like there was more of a purpose in my game,'' he said.

"I have to realize that in scoring goals, you have to play with a purpose to get those goals.

''I've tried to be patient with myself because I knew it wasn't going to come easy right away. Hopefully it'll turn around.

"I'm probably overdoing it. Mentally I'm probably overanalyzing instead of just going out and playing and letting natural instincts take over.

'OUT THE WINDOW'

''I'm trying to throw all that stuff out the window and just come out and have fun and play the game.''

He's capable of it, as evidenced by his 25-goal, 60-point season in 2002, and they need to see it soon, if not immediately.

With the Oilers on a six-game skid, MacTavish doesn't have time for guys to settle in slowly.

"That gets to being an excuse,'' MacTavish said of the adjustment from Long Island to Edmonton.

"He has the ability. He's scored in the past and he has a lot of experience.

''He knows the areas where he has to be bearing down and getting pucks to the net.''

But the coach is quick to point out that Peca isn't the only forward who isn't pulling his weight.

"All our forwards for that matter,'' he said.

"For the lack of production, you can finger 12 guys. We need more production out of the forwards.

"You could see in practice where we were doing a lot of three-on-ones where they weren't even getting a shot on net.

''Yeah, the ice was bad, but you have to have it in your mind what you're going to do with the puck.''


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