SUN Hockey Pool

Skating in circles

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

DALLAS -- Craig MacTavish did to the Oilers what everybody else in Edmonton wants to do to the Oilers.

He tanned their hides.

On the heels of two crushing defeats and a seven-game losing streak, MacTavish wheeled his players into a practice rink in Dallas and gave them a very public spanking.

Longtime observers called it the most punishing bag skate they'd ever seen as MacTavish drilled his players into the ice for 50 straight minutes.

"We have to smarten up and start winning some hockey games," said the coach, who'd finally seen enough after his club followed a 7-1 blowout loss to Colorado by giving up three goals in the final six minutes to lose the rematch 5-3.

"At this stage, when you're in the stretch that we're in right now, you're looking for a foothold to turn this around. It was presented to us in spades (Tuesday) and because of the mistakes we made we were unable to take advantage of it.

"Mistakes, poor decisions. We're not talking complex hockey reads here, we're talking about basic fundamentals to get a game in the bank."

After the way they gassed Tuesday's game the Oilers had a feeling MacTavish was going to let them have it.

"We knew Tuesday night that this was coming," said Chris Pronger, still shaking his head at the choke job. "I would say that's a worse loss than the 7-1 defeat because we were never in that game. To be down 2-0, come back 2-2, get the go-ahead goal in the third, and then mistake after mistake ...

"We were showing signs of playing with the emotion and smarts for a period-and-a-half and then I don't know where it went ... right now we're finding ways to lose."

So yesterday, they were finding ways to skate.

After a video session chronicling all of their stupid, game-wasting blunders, MacTavish had each player take two pucks and line up along the south goal line. He had them race with one puck to the near blue-line, drop it off, race back to the goal line for the other puck, take it to the far blue-line and drop it off, race back to the south goal line, then back to the near blue-line to retrieve the first puck, back to the south goal line to drop it off, back to the far blue-line for the other puck and, finally, back to the goal line.

Over and over and over. No breaks. No water.

For 22 straight minutes.

"That was to teach about getting the pucks over our own blue-line and getting them deep at the other team's blue-line," said Pronger.

Then, after a quick sip, they skated hard laps for 15 minutes. Then they divided into groups and did sprints back and forth across the faceoff circles, no coasting, just three quick strides, hammer on the breaks, three quick strides, hammer on the breaks. For seven straight leg-burning minutes.

Then it was goal line to goal line to goal line to goal line until the ice surface was ankle deep in shavings.

Hopefully he got his message across.

"We were doing a lot of good things right in the first three games," said Pronger. "Playing with a lot of intensity, playing smart, getting the puck out at the line, getting it in at their line and using our forecheck, which is the cornerstone of our team... we were doing that in the first three games and it's gone now.

"We have to get back to the team that we know we can be. We've shown signs at times in every game that we can do it. It's just being consistent."

Instead of consistently bad.

"You just know that our situation is:what can go wrong will go wrong unless you play a smart game," said MacTavish.

"If you give the opposition opportunity, bad things are going to happen. We're going to have to play a complete, smart game. We better get that capability or it's going to be over before we know it."


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