SUN Hockey Pool

Slaying a slump

Edmonton Oilers backup goaltender Jussi Markkanen appears to recieve a stern look from coach Craig...

Edmonton Oilers backup goaltender Jussi Markkanen appears to recieve a stern look from coach Craig MacTavish during practice at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Wednesday morning. (Edmonton Sun/Brendon Dlouhy)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

Craig MacTavish was supposed to have so much offensive talent at his disposal this season, that all he'd have to do was open the gate.

Supposedly blessed with three scoring threesomes to match any set of top nine forwards in the NHL, the head coach of the Oilers still doesn't have two lines he can go with on a consistent basis.

Enduring slumps by his top end guys - Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Joffrey Lupul and Raffi Torres - MacTavish has been juggling combinations without finding much to hang his hat on.

The most reasonable facsimile lately has been Brad Winchester, Marty Reasoner and Patrick Thoresen. No insult intended, but if the fourth line is your best line, you've got a problem.

The trick is balancing giving go-to guys like Lupul, Hemsky, Horcoff and Torres a chance to play their way through dry spells while rewarding those playing well with more ice time.

There's no keeping everybody happy.

"Just recognition they are struggling and they're doing everything they can in practice, being diligent off the ice and being very receptive to any coaching," said MacTavish of what he expects from players working through slumps.

"If you're in denial and you're playing poorly and don't look inspired in practice, then you don't expect to be in the lineup very much."

Outside Ryan Smyth and Petr Sykora, MacTavish hasn't had anybody knock his socks off consistently.

Torres started the year with Sykora and Hemsky, but played himself out of that gig. Hemsky has run the gamut from brilliant to brutal. Lupul has been mediocre, but has moved around and played out of position.

"That's not my call," said Torres, asked if 12:28 of ice time a night is enough to get back on top of his game.

"I've been in situations where I've played less than this and I've still done something out there.

"You've got to play well to get played."

In what you wouldn't call a vote of confidence, Lupul wasn't used in the Oilers lone shootout. He is averaging 15:56 of ice time.

"I haven't been getting the chances I usually get, which is a little frustrating. My shots on goal are way down," said Lupul, who has 38 shots.

So, are Lupul and Torres struggling because of lack of ice time or is their ice time a reflection of how they've played?

MacTavish sees Lupul coming on, and he isn't throwing in the towel on Torres either.

"The dilemma for him (Torres), is the fourth line is playing very well, so they're starting to eat into some of the minutes he would get to get himself out of it," MacTavish said.

"I think with Raffi it's just a case of getting a break and getting some confidence. I see him putting the work in."


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