Making them pay

Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish had his team practicing on an off day in response to their...

Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish had his team practicing on an off day in response to their recent lacklustre play. (Edmonton Sun File/Perry Mah)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

COLUMBUS -- When a team bends over and accepts a public spanking on game night, it very often has to turn the other cheek for its coach the next morning.

That's why what was supposed to be the only day off in a five-game in seven-day road trip for the Edmonton Oilers turned into a date with the paddle instead.

Rather than sleeping in before a noon flight to Columbus, they had to catch a 7:45 a.m. bus to Joe Louis Arena, where Craig MacTavish made them pay for their horrendous performance 12 hours earlier.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist as a player, and I certainly wasn't, to know what you deserve,'' said the coach, who drilled them as hard as you can drill them without ruining them for tonight's game against the Blue Jackets.

"We have a tough stretch ahead of us, three games in four nights coming up. Would I have liked to have given them the day off, absolutely. Did they deserve it, absolutely not.''

MacTavish says it's a simple trade: If you don't show up for the game (and being outshot 45-16 qualifies as not showing up), you show up for the day off.

"You have to get the work out of them, and we didn't get it last game,'' he said. "But we're going to get it. There has to be accountability for the performance, this is part of that.''

The players weren't anticipating anything less.

"Let's be honest, it was to be expected,'' said Shawn Horcoff. "We've had a few games here to try and get it back ourselves and we haven't been able to do it.

"Mac is fair to us. When you wake up and know that a day like this is coming, you know it's because you deserve it.''

"It's not something you want to do, but we deserved it, and we know we deserved it,'' added Jarret Stoll.

In some ways, MacTavish says players would rather be whipped than lectured, anyway.

"A lot of times when players go through a game like that, they'd rather just come in and get skated. Physical warfare rather than psychological warfare.''

Shawn of the dead

Right now, Horcoff is a mirror image of the Oilers, and it's not a pretty sight. He's been struggling since opening night, with just one goal in 15 games, and can't buy a break.

"He's a great Oiler,'' said MacTavish, who watched Horcoff transform himself from a third-line checker to a first line centre. "Nobody works as hard as he does and nobody's taking this as hard as he is. He hasn't had a lot go right for him.''

The easy answer is that he's not playing with Ales Hemsky anymore. The Hemsky-Horcoff-Ryan Smyth trio worked wonders last year. Now Petr Sykora is benefiting from all the open ice and juicy feeds, while Horcoff and Smyth didn't strike any kind of chemistry with Joffrey Lupul.

"I've had Horc on 35 different lines in an effort to try and find a combination that clicks for him,'' said MacTavish. "Maybe that's been disruptive. Maybe we have to go back to Smytty, Horc and Hemmer together.

"There's an onus on me as a coach to try and find a way to get him out of it. He and four or five other guys.''

Horcoff says it's more about him than his linemates.

"We need our best players to step up and have a game and get us a win,'' he said. "It doesn't really matter who I play with, I've got to get better and lead this team offensively.''


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