Points and pageantry

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- Craig MacTavish has the greatest respect for the considerable accomplishments of Al MacInnis, who will have his No. 2 jersey retired by the St. Louis Blues tonight.

But, with a 45-minute pre-game ceremony to honour the prolific point man from Nova Scotia, and two much-needed points on the table, MacTavish and the Edmonton Oilers will spend the time staying loose in the dressing room rather than take in the festivities.

"Certainly no disrespect to Al, but it's more for our readiness once the puck drops," MacTavish said yesterday.

"We'll stay in the dressing room and wait it out and, hopefully, get a little warm-up after."

MACINNIS WAS A SPECIAL TALENT

MacTavish spent much of his NHL career facing MacInnis but was briefly his St. Louis teammate during parts of two seasons -- 1995-96 and 1996-97. He says the 13-time all-star was special.

"He was an incredible player," MacTavish said. "Just the classic case of a guy who had exceptional intelligence on the ice.

"He didn't have all that much speed. He might dispute that, but he was just a guy who had deception in his game with the way he could move the puck. The play never died with him. A terrific player, a terrific person and a great leader."

Chris Pronger, who arrived in St. Louis for the 1995-96 campaign, a year after MacInnis was traded to the Blues by the Calgary Flames, spent nine seasons as a teammate.

"Getting to see a player of that calibre play every day, his practice habits and work ethic off the ice and training, there's a lot of things you can take from that," Pronger said.

"He's been renowned for his shot, but I think the thing that gets bypassed is his defensive abilities. He was looked at as an offensive defenceman, but he was pretty damn good in his own end."

Pronger was a youngster when he arrived in the Show Me State, while MacInnis was one of the league's best players and had hoisted a Stanley Cup with the Flames.

"I've always been pretty good at learning by watching," said Pronger, who never was a regular blue-line partner with MacInnis, but played with him on the power play.

"You get a chance to play with and watch a Hall of Famer like that, you can take a lot out of it. Just watching the subtle things, whether it be in practice or in games, and talking about plays, you can take a lot of that stuff and put it in the bank and use it at a later date."

MacInnis, 42, played 23 NHL seasons before an eye injury limited him to just three games in 2003-04. He scored 340 goals, third in NHL history among defencemen, and added 934 assists for 1,274 points, which ranks 28th in career scoring.

"You never want to see a player of that calibre leave on somebody else's terms," Pronger said of the eye injury that convinced MacInnis to retire. "I still think he probably could have played this year."

BOOMING SLAPSHOT

While MacInnis sipped from the Cup in 1989, won the Conn Smyth Trophy and the Norris Trophy, it was a twine-bulging, shin-pad-splitting slapshot that was his trademark.

"I dispute the fact there's anybody out there who blocked more of his shots," smiled MacTavish.

"I almost scored one once at the other end off my shin pad. It's one thing to have a shot.

"It's another to put yourself in position to use it. He had that capability."

The Oilers have been the team of choice for jersey retirements this season. Edmonton retired Paul Coffey's No. 7 at Rexall Place and has seen Mark Messier's linen lifted in New York in a 70-minute marathon at Madison Square Garden. The club also witnessed Thomas Steen honoured in Phoenix.

"I've never been through it at this stage of the season," MacTavish said. "I think, for the exact reason we're worried about it, is the reason they shouldn't have them this late in the season.

"It's a game that's not all that meaningful for St. Louis but is of enormous proportion for us."


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