SUN Hockey Pool

Better late than never

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 6:40 AM ET

Michael Peca had more or less suggested that he doesn't see himself playing here next year.

And the Edmonton Oilers, paying him $4 million for this year, didn't even need to suggest they won't be paying him that next year.

But the news is that Peca wants to play here the rest of this year!

In the last three or four games, he's played his best hockey to prove it.

It was a big night for the Oilers last night with a 7-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes to preserve a playoff position for the moment. But maybe the biggest part of it beyond what it, meant in the standings for this up-and-down-like-a-toilet-seat-team, was that some serious streaks were stopped.

"Peca's goal ...

"Ethan's goal ...

"Radek's goal ...

"We'd talked to them about the importance of getting some offence,'' said coach Craig MacTavish.

Ethan Moreau scored his first goal in 17 games. Radek Dvorak scored his first in 15. Peca scored his first in 11.

The concern about those three has been in reverse to their streaks, however.

WINNING FACE-OFFS

Peca has spent the season winning face-offs but not winning many friends or influencing many people in Edmonton.

He's had a second-rate season.

But all of a sudden it's getting close to playoff time and there's the thought, off the way he's played lately and certainly the way he played last night, that maybe he's going to pay off after all.

"His reputation in the game is impeccable,'' said MacTavish.

"Now he's playing the type of hockey that he's built his reputation on.

"He's playing his best hockey as an Edmonton Oiler.

"And he's playing it at the perfect time.''

Peca, with a goal and an assist, now has nine snipes for the season and 22 points.

Not $4-million stats.

But playoff gates are million-dollar propositions these days and ...

"Who knows what makes individuals tick. But right now he's bringing more energy to his game,'' said MacTavish.

Peca says it's been such an adjustment from the beginning.

"I don't want to magnify it. I had a lot of changes to go through in such a short time.

"I didn't think there was going to be a season again.

"Boom, there was a season.

"Boom, I was moving West.

"It was when I came to the press conference in Edmonton it really hit me.

"I lost six or seven pounds. I was so concerned, I couldn't settle down for a long time.

"I've had a number of off-ice things. One of my best friends in the world lost his daughter. There's been other stuff, but nothing other people don't have to deal with.

"Whatever happened here happened. Nobody cares now. It's behind us. That includes me. I just want to play as hard as I can for the guys in this room.''

Now is the time?

"It's never too late,'' he said.

"I've been disappointed. I know I have much more to give this team. I want to show the players I can still be reliable.''

Peca, who played a large role in taking the Buffalo Sabres to a Stanley Cup final a few years back, would love to help another team well into the playoffs, and said he just wants his teammates to know he's here to play for them.

HITTING HIS STRIDE

Playing his best hockey right now?

"I think so,'' said Peca. "I'm just starting to hit my stride. I feel like it's coming.''

Peca said the entire out-break by the team ought to loosen the collars a bit as they head out on the road to Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit before returning home for games against Anaheim and Colorado.

"We're involved in a great stretch of hockey here. You need to both compete and have fun at the same time. You can press more than you should.''

He's the poster boy for that. He's been pressing all year.


Photos