SUN Hockey Pool

Race to the finish

Edmonton Oilers' Ales Hemsky. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

Edmonton Oilers' Ales Hemsky. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:02 PM ET

CHICAGO -- It's the second greatest scoring race in Edmonton Oilers history.

And nobody has noticed.

So fixated have we been on the great playoff race in the NHL West, we've managed to pay no attention to the other great race which has been under our noses all year.

Only once in all of Oilers' history have two players had as many points and battled so late into the season for the team scoring title as Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff.

"I didn't know that,'' said coach Craig MacTavish after Hemsky broke a 72-point tie between the two with a three-point night to Horcoff's one-point night as the Oilers scored a 4-3 overtime win against the Blackhawks here Friday night.

"Normally you're looking at those sorts of things at this time of year. Those are the sorts of things that normally produce some of the drive at this stage of the season.

"But there's just too much at stake to even think about those kinds of things. I've never seen anything like this before and I never want to see anything like it again,'' he said of the playoff race, which resumes with the Oilers in St. Louis today.

With four games to go, Hemsky has 18 goals with 57 assists for 75 points in 78 games, while Horcoff has 22 goals with 51 assists for 73 points in 75 games.

"It seems like they've been like that all year,'' said GM Kevin Lowe. "It's like they've been just a couple spots back of the cut-off number of guys when the newspapers publish the NHL scoring leaders.

LOTS TO DO WITH IT

"As of yesterday we were the eighth-highest scoring team in the league, and they've obviously had a lot to do with that.''

In the past, there were a few times when Oilers scoring leaders have battled against each other down the stretch.

The closest were Jari Kurri and (here's a pretty good trivia question answer) Jimmy Carson. Kurri finished the season with 102 points, and Carson had 100 in 1989-90.

One year Esa Tikkanen, Petr Klima, Mark Messier and Joe Murphy were all in the 60-point range at the end of a season.

In Wayne Gretzky's day he was that many points and more ahead of the next guy.

And, with a couple more big games, Hemsky and Horcoff will end the season as point-per-game players. Edmonton hasn't had one of those since Doug Weight left town.

POINT-PER-GAME PLAYERS

There are fewer point-per-game players in the league than there are teams - even in the new NHL - and Edmonton could end up with two. And if they do, you know they'll be in the playoffs, and on a roll going in.

And, for the record, Sergei Samsonov has 15 points in 15 games with the Oilers since the deadline deal, which brought him to Edmonton from the Boston Bruins.

The Oilers went into this season with their fingers crossed that Hemsky, Horcoff and goaltending would be there. Two out of three normally isn't bad.

There was every evidence that after Horcoff's season in Sweden and Hemsky's year in the Czech Republic, that they were ready to take the large leap to their future.

But seeing is believing.

Believe it.

They're for real. And they're only going to get better - especially Hemsky, who if he wants it bad enough and finds a higher level of intensity, has a chance to be a great player.

Most fans find Hemsky more frustrating to follow than fun at this point because of his refusal to shoot and cut to the net.

As one press boxer put it the other day, he'd score more if the nets were facing the other way. Hemsky has scored some incredibly gorgeous goals, but even MacTavish admits it.

"I'd like to see him get some ugly ones.''

Hemsky, in his first 130 games as an NHLer, managed the grand total of 64 points - 30 in his first year and 34 in his second season. Horcoff, in his first 268 games, had 111 points - 16, 22, 33 and 40 in his first four years.

Hemsky is still somewhat streaky. With a goal and an assist against Los Angeles five games ago, he put an end to a stretch of six games with only one point and a 13-game run without putting a puck in the net.

But scoring race?

"I don't even think about it,'' said Hemsky.

"I just try to go out and play to make the playoffs. That's the most important thing. And I think it doesn't matter who comes in first or second in scoring on your team.''

Horcoff said the two linemates haven't even kidded each other about it.

"It's never come up, to tell you the truth.''


Videos

Photos