SUN Hockey Pool

Special mentions

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

THE BIG PICTURE

Grades for forwards, defencemen, goaltenders and special teams.

UP FRONT

Those who lamented the lack of a proven offensive centre and doubted the Oilers could score enough goals by committee might want to rethink their argument.

- The Oilers have scored 138 goals, eighth in the NHL going into Wednesday, and have six players - Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Raffi Torres and Fernando Pisani - on pace for 20-or-more goals. They haven't had that many since 1991-92.

- Three Oilers centres are among the NHL's top 20 in face-off percentage with Stoll (second at 61.8), Michael Peca (fifth at 58.2) and Horcoff (17th at 54.1).

If coach Craig MacTavish has been lacking anything, it's the presence of a set fourth line. Somewhere in the mix of Georges Laraque, Brad Winchester, Jani Rita, Todd Harvey and Marty Reasoner is the trio MacTavish needs. B+

THE BLUE LINE

The glaring weakness has been MacTavish's third pairing. If Matt Greene, who has played just two games, can step in on a regular basis in the second half and remedy that, the back end is in good shape.

Simply put, Chris Pronger is the best defenceman to wear Edmonton silks since Paul Coffey. Partner Marc-Andre Bergeron has benefited most from his presence.

Captain Jason Smith and Steve Staios are a physical and reliable second tandem. Smith and Pronger are among the top 10 in blocked shots. B

BETWEEN THE PIPES

This team has 23 wins in spite of its goaltending, not because of it. You can count on one hand, with fingers to spare, how many times goaltending has stolen a game.

Ty Conklin, Jussi Markkanen and Mike Morrison have yet to prove capable of carrying the load.

Conklin has persevered through some bad performances, a groin injury and two stints in the minors and is showing signs of turning things around, but to say he's done so is premature.

The first step is to trim the crease by one body. If that doesn't get it done and coax the desired results from the two who remain, the second move belongs to GM Kevin Lowe. D

POWER PLAY

Hot as a $3 pistol the past 10 games (19-for-75), the power play sits seventh in the league and has been equally effective at home and away with 25 goals at Rexall Place and 25 on the road.

Pronger and Stoll have been absolute dynamite on the point. They, along with Hemsky's emergence, have plugged in a unit that finished a woeful 29th in 2003-04. B+

PENALTY KILLING

The Oilers are ranked a respectable 14th while a man short, which is a big improvement over 27th, which is where they finished 2003-04.

Pronger's presence on the back end and the Oilers top-ranked face-off men are most responsible for the improvement. C+


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