SUN Hockey Pool

Goals and goaltending

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

More than any other team in the league, prognosticators seem to be all over the place in trying to figure out where to pick the Edmonton Oilers.

"It sure is entertaining this year to hear people talk about it," says coach Craig MacTavish.

A prominent Hockey Night In Canada commentator tells GM Kevin Lowe he is planning on predicting Edmonton first in the West. The Hockey News has already projected the Oilers 12th.

"I mean, who does know?" says coach Craig MacTavish. "If there was one guy who was right from year to year, I'd be concerned."

Put me down for at least 300 goals.

Mark me up for no more than 250 against.

Put me on the record for 11-5 in shootouts.

And put my name beside 106 points in the standings and a real go at the Calgary Flames for first in the division and no worse than fifth or sixth in the conference.

One area where everybody seems to agree is the Oilers are going to score more goals. Lots and lots more goals.

As many as 44 more goals than last year? That would give them the 300.

Added to the offence this year are Joffrey Lupul and Peter Sykora. Lupul scored 28 in his second NHL season last year. Sykora had 16 playing 40 games with the Rangers.

GOALS IN SIGHT

The Oilers have eight potential 20-goal scorers. Last year, with 256 goals, Edmonton was tied for 13th in the league.

"I'd be shocked if we're not in the top 10," says GM Kevin Lowe.

With Lupul and Sykora and offensive talents blooming all over the lineup, combined with improved goaltending with Dwayne Roloson, you have to figure there will be a dramatic improvement in the Oilers 7-9 shootout record from last year. "I'm confident about that number improving," says MacTavish. "I would think we're going to be quite a bit better."

Under the heading of intangibles, how much will having gone to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final mean to this team in terms of confidence and learning how to win?

Maybe more than anything says MacTavish.

"That's a significant positive for the team. We had to be really disciplined to get there. Once you get to that level of disciplined play it's easier to have that as the level of expectation. There's pride and incentive to get back there. It's definitely nice to have that respect as one of the best in the game and it's something everybody involved definitely wants to regain."

There's all that. Then there's C. Pronger.

Losing arguably the best defenceman in the NHL, a 30-minute man, is a pretty good argument for things going south. But how many goals against do you drop because of losing Pronger that you get back by not having the Ty Conklin-Jussi Markkanen bad goal extravaganza?

"We don't expect to see a drop in our goals against because we lost Pronger," said Lowe.

"Our fear is that we might have so much success at the other end that it might cause some problems in our own end for that reason, more than losing Pronger."

THAT'S REGULAR

Remember, we're talking the regular season Oilers here, not the playoff Oilers with Jaroslav Spacek added late. Remember Igor Ulanov and Cory Cross were members of the Oilers defence at this time last year.

Matt Greene played 18 playoff games last year and was either a plus or even in 17 of them. The regular season difference is mostly Pronger.

"To me, the point is that during the regular season with Roloson playing at the same level in goal as he was playing during the playoffs there is a more significant improvement there than losing Pronger will be on the other end of it," says MacTavish.

"That's not to demean Prongs. I just think it's going to be a wash.

"It's a different question when you get to the playoffs. We had them both in the playoffs."

Last year the Oilers gave up 251. Keep it at the same number and they can't miss as a reach for the top team.

"The one thing I know is that we have the skill and the goaltending," said MacTavish.

"Give me the skill and the goaltending and I'll take my chances."

Listen to 'Terry Jones At Large' weekdays at 8:07 a.m. on 790 CFCW.


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