SUN Hockey Pool

Keeping 'em sharp

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

They were on their hands and knees, gasping for air, and the coach was showing them no mercy.

You'd swear they were riding a six-game losing streak the way head coach Craig MacTavish skated the Edmonton Oilers yesterday.

It wasn't punishment for the 1-1 Oilers, just the usual welcome-back conditioning drills that follow a day off.

"It's good sometimes to have a great skate like that," said Petr Sykora, in an exhausted post-practice dressing room. "It was pretty tough. It wasn't killer, but we worked hard. You really have to dig down. But we've got a day to recover (before San Jose)."

When they hit the ice against San Jose it'll be five days since their last game. MacTavish, who can ill afford a sluggish team tomorrow, isn't crazy about the layoff at this time of year.

"You'd like to have this break about the middle of March," he said. "Five days off now, everybody is still keen and ready to go. There's always things you can work on, but certainly you'd rather have the time in February and March when you could use the rest."

Torres in the circle

With Sykora adjusting to life in the faceoff circle, linemate Raffi Torres is continuing in his quest to help out.

He averaged less than a draw a game last season (60 in 82) but has already taken seven through the first two games this year.

"He's got natural technique and strength," said MacTavish. "He's got quick hands and he's tremendously strong on the puck. We think with some direction and some practise he can really help us there, especially on the power play."

Torres, (3-4 on the year) would like to expand the workload and improve the average.

"I think I got gypped in Calgary, I think I was 2-1 and they only gave me 1-2," said the left winger, who helps out on the powerplay, when Sykora is back on the point.

"But faceoffs are something I'd like to add to my game to help make me a more rounded player."

It's harder than it looks.

"Oh yeah. I thought I could win them with power, but the smarter guys know how to play off that. I've got some good teachers here, though. That's the main thing, watching other centres and learning from the guys here."

Frustrated sniper

Like most NHL shooters, Sykora fusses over the makeup of his composite sticks, constantly searching for the perfect weapon. He's trying to find one whippy enough to favour his one-timer and strong enough for the faceoff circle.

Trouble is, he's already had two shafts snap in his hands while he was trying to take a shot, unnerving for any sniper.

"It's weird that it happened two games in a row," he said. "You can't really say it's a bad stick. It could be from a slash or something from the faceoff circle, but still, when it happens two games in a row."


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