Bottom-up boot works for Oilers

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

Playing time is currency in pro sports and it's the ultimate power tool that coaches hold over their players.

Make good use of your time and you'll get more. Make mistakes or look disinterested and you'll be nailed to the bench.

In hockey, players might forget how many goals or points they have, but they can tell you to the millisecond how much time they spent on the ice in the previous game.

That brings us to the recent dilemma of London native and Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, who appeared to want to cut the playing time of some of his underproducing top players such as Chris Pronger this week, but didn't feel his depth guys did enough to earn extra time.

MacTavish went an interesting route by bashing his lesser lights, skating them hard in practice and calling them out in the media for not doing enough to earn more ice time after this week's loss to rival Calgary.

"Back in the old days, you used to view it as a real privilege to be in the lineup every night and there are a lot of guys who are taking that for granted in the lower part of our lineup," MacTavish told the Edmonton Sun. "Whether you're playing three or four minutes or nine or 11, you have to find a way to be a contributor somehow in the ice time that you're given."

In essence, he was saying the players who spend a lot of time on the bench were cheating the team by not challenging the top stringers for ice.

It's an interesting approach since teams normally live and die by the performance of their better, well-paid players. In the 1980s, it would've been like Oilers coach Glen Sather blaming MacTavish for a loss instead of Wayne Gretzky, even though the Great One was on the ice for half the game.

But clearly, MacTavish sees a divided dressing room and figures a kick in the pants of the back-end guys will resonate up the totem pole.

In the short term, it has worked. Edmonton beat Anaheim in their next game and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe made a couple of trades to get MacTavish some help.

Alex and Brian

Washington rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin, who is going to win the Calder Trophy as top first-year NHLer unless Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby continues to pick up the pace, rejected the chance to room on the road with fellow Russian Dainius Zubrus so he could learn English and immerse himself in North American culture.

Enter Caps teammate and Belmont native Brian Willsie, who, it's been reported, is showing Ovechkin around.

Sports Illustrated said Willsie is in charge of keeping Ovechkin in charge of "meeting times, bus departures and appropriate NHL dress."

During downtime, the duo can chat about shootout strategy since they have the most attempts on their team. Ovechkin is six-for-nine, while Willsie is two-for-six.

In the sticks

Current Rochester Americans captain and Stratford native Chris Taylor was skating last week for the first time since a knee on thigh collision in late October. The former London Knights star is still week-to-week.

In other Rochester news, one-time Knights enforcer and current Amerks tough guy Sean McMorrow proved he is as good with kids as he is with his fists by reading to kids at a local library this month.


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