The Torres pace

ROBIN BROWNLEE, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

CHICAGO -- He'll drive you nuts by going AWOL for games on end, but then he wins you back with inspired bull-rushes to the net, wicked hits and timely goals.

Raffi Torres, to borrow from Forrest Gump's mama, is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get.

Sometimes you shake your head. Then he gets in a groove like he's in now.

With the Edmonton Oilers' second goal in a 2-0 win over Dallas Friday, another Raffi Rip is officially underway. The rambunctious redhead, the epitome of hit-and-miss hockey and 180-degree swings in confidence, has scored four goals in his last nine games, just when the Oilers need him most - with Ethan Moreau, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth out with injuries.

How long it lasts is anybody's guess.

"It's a big chance for guys to step up," Torres said.

"I feel there's an opportunity here that hasn't been here all year, other than at the start of the year. I didn't do too well with that."

BIG SWINGS IN PLAY

Streaky doesn't come close to doing the swings in Torres's game justice. In that sense, he's like the all-or-nothing baseball slugger who leads the league in strikeouts but hits 30 jacks a year.

In any given stretch, the 25-year-old winger from Toronto will have fans shaking their heads at how ineffective he can be. But just when the radio call-in shows start to buzz, he shuts up the braying masses.

"I'm working on being more focused and showing up to the rink ready to go," he said. "Instead of just going out and playing, I want to win. That's something I never really knew I had inside me. It's time to start being a professional. That's the worst thing. I know I've been an inconsistent player."

FINDING SUCCESS

Playing on a line with Jarret Stoll and Fernando Pisani of late, Torres has done exactly that with five assists to go with his four goals for nine points.

"Ultimately, and players may have a different view of this, I pride myself in not getting so wrapped up in players' shortcomings that I lose sight of the things they do well," coach Craig MacTavish said. "In spite of the fact he, like a lot of young players, goes through ups and downs. I don't get so focused in on the negatives in his game that it drives me crazy and the player crazy."

Having scored 27 goals last season, Torres began the season on the top line with Petr Sykora and Hemsky. With just one assist in his first four games, that didn't last long.

"That cost me a lot of ice time," Torres said. "I look at it as this is my second chance of this season.

"This is a chance to really help the team. I'm feeling pretty confident, so it's going well for me right now."

Torres, always the first guy to say when he's playing brutal - his favourite word when it comes to self-loathing - went 11 games without a goal. But here he is with six goals after 28 games when he had just two in the first 19.

"I don't like not contributing," said Torres. "It's a team game and I never realized how good it feels to contribute until the playoffs last year. I like it when guys are looking at you to do something out there. I feel like I'm being counted on to be a big part of the team. It's a big year for me in my career."

Until his hands and confidence go south and Torres disappears again - history suggests it'll happen before all those new No. 14 jerseys are tucked under the Christmas tree - MacTavish will ride the wave with him.

"It starts off that he's a real good person," MacTavish said. "He's quick to throw himself on the sword. Sometimes that can have a negative effect on your confidence level.

"When he's on, he makes plays nobody on our team makes. Little, deft passes. He's got great hands, a quick release, a good physical presence. He's still a relatively young guy and it takes awhile to get comfortable in this league. There are going to be some ups and downs."

Right now, it's all up.


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