Peca plays proud

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:40 AM ET

In case New York had forgotten how much they disliked Michael Peca, the former Islander stuck them for a few reminders on Thursday.

Two goals and nasty open ice hit on Martin Rucinsky, for starters.

"I've always had good success in that rink,'' said Peca, who had a slightly easier ride from the MSG crowd this time around. "It's a little less hostile than when you're an Islander.''

His personal success in Manhattan didn't extend to the Oilers, 5-4 losers in overtime, but in case Edmonton had forgotten how important a player like Peca can be to a club with lofty playoff aspirations, he's been dropping all kinds of reminders on that front, too.

SHUT-DOWN JOBS

Before the two-goal night in New York there were shut down jobs on Sidney Crosby and Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra, Simon Gagne and Markus Naslund before that. Against the other team's best players he's been a minus player just three times in the last 19 games and has eight points of his own in the last 12 games.

Forty-four games into his stay in Edmonton, it seems Peca is finding the niche that eluded him so glaringly at the start.

"The first couple of months were a really tough transition for me,'' he said. "The last month, month and a half I've really felt comfortable and feel like my game is at the point where I know I can do a lot of good things for us.''

It appears now that Peca, who helped Buffalo to a Stanley Cup final and Canada to an Olympic gold medal, was simply mis-cast upon his arrival in Edmonton. His contract was a reward for years of loyal and effective service in a big market, but Edmontonians took one look at the price tag and assumed that all $4 million players are Rocket Richard Trophy candidates.

"I was coming off an 11-goal season my last year on Long Island,'' he said. "And there was a lot of talk about scoring 30.''

When he didn't light it up out of the gate, and wasn't being used in much of a checking role, and the Oilers weren't winning, the second highest contract on the club stood out like... like a $4 million contract in Edmonton.

Peca knew he wasn't giving the team or the city sufficient bang for the buck, but there was a lot to digest in those early weeks.

For years he earned his living, almost exclusively, by trapping and checking. Suddenly he's on a new team in a new conference, after a year-long lockout, and expected to be a first or second- line scoring centre.

"There were just a lot of new things for me,'' he said. "You get used to doing the same thing for 10 years. In Buffalo and Long Island it was pretty much the same thing. There were a lot of adjustments on top of missing a (lockout) season.

"But I'm settling in and feel more comfortable as every day goes by. If I felt this comfortable at the start of the season I probably could have scored 30.''

The comfort, confidence and progress increased dramatically when the Oilers stopped trying to reinvent Peca and assigned him instead to do what he does best - kill penalties and neutralize the other team's best line. He settled in and is now re-exploring an offensive side that saw him score 25 in 2001-02.

SHORTHANDED GOALS

Edmonton's penalty killing ranks 12th, up from 27th last year, and they lead the league in shorthanded goals on the road (eight) - Peca has two of them, linemate Ethan Moreau three. As valuable as they are now, they'll double their importance in a playoff series.

"We've really found a good chemistry,'' said Peca. "Ethan and I, especially on the penalty kill, we feel very confident that we're going to get a good scoring chance just about every time we're out there.''


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