Oilers line dance?

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

The three pressing questions for coach Craig MacTavish aren't so much about who gets his 23 roster spots to start the season, but rather what to do with players who'll dress for the Edmonton Oilers when the puck drops against the Calgary Flames Oct. 5.

While there's still decisions for MacTavish to make regarding his 12th, 13th and 14th forwards, not to mention who his sixth and seventh defencemen will be, that will play itself out in three remaining pre-season games. The other answers won't come as quickly.

First, is Petr Sykora, who went 3-8 in the face-off circles in Saturday's 2-1 loss to Calgary and is 7-15 on the dot overall in his two games, best used at centre?

Second, will MacTavish employ five forwards on his first power play, as he has at times during pre-season, or will that leave the back end vulnerable when facing real NHL rosters?

Third, where does right winger Joffrey Lupul fit, and with whom, in a group of offensive-minded forwards who are almost interchangeable in the one through nine spots?

From where I sit, the answers, in order, are: yes, probably and on the first line with Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff. All, of course, are subject to the right of review and second thought ... Coach?

"There's underlying issues that probably aren't going to be resolved in training camp," MacTavish said yesterday.

"It'll take until (the) regular season to see if we bury some of these concerns or whether they're going to be front and centre."

Given Sykora's playmaking skills and the chemistry he's shown playing between Raffi Torres and Ales Hemsky, I'd bet MacTavish is leaning to leaving him where he is.

Even if Sykora, who played pivot with the New Jersey Devils, continues to struggle on face-offs, the obvious solution is to have Jarret Stoll, Horcoff or Marty Reasoner spell him off, then quick change.

"It's not so much of an issue 5-on-5," MacTavish said. "In a defensive zone face-off, I'll put another centre out there. On the power play, you want possession.

"Petr can pass and he's very good positionally. He's a very smart player."

As for using five forwards on the power play, that's a question that also involves Sykora.

Does MacTavish go with Smyth, Lupul and Hemsky up front and Sykora and Stoll on the blueline on his first unit, or is Marc-Andre Bergeron in that mix? If Bergeron is in, who comes out?

Stoll, a right-hand shot, was dynamite last season paired with Chris Pronger, scoring 11 of his 22 goals on the power play.

"Can you have five forwards out there? Maybe," says MacTavish. "Stoll is real good back there.

"He's highlighted on a right-side set-up because of his shot, so maybe he's a better fit with Horcoff on the second unit with maybe Fernando (Pisani) and Raffi."

Finally, Lupul. He had his best outing in the loss to the Flames, scoring the Oilers only goal and firing eight shots at Jamie McLennan after feeling his way into things for two games.

Given how MacTavish has stuck with Torres-Sykora-Hemsky, it makes sense for Lupul, coming off a 28-goal campaign with Anaheim, to get a chance to start with Smyth and Horcoff.

"He's going to be fine," MacTavish said of Lupul. "I liked him (Saturday)."

With a top six that's more like 1A and 1B instead of first and second lines, MacTavish also has the luxury of flipping Lupul and Hemsky, if need be, or spotting in Pisani.

"That's the uncertainty for me and the coaching staff," MacTavish said. "I know these issues are out there, but because of the quality of the opposition (in pre-season), we've been able to overcome them.

"Now, as the quality gets higher in terms of teams we play, are we going to be able to thrive despite them or will they be issues that, ultimately, have to be resolved?"


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