SUN Hockey Pool

Special team stars

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Outnumbered, but not overmatched.

That's the best way to characterize the penalty killing of the Edmonton Oilers this season. That's been particularly true on the road, which is timely, to say the least, right now.

Not only did the Oilers file into the United Center yesterday to face the Chicago Blackhawks with the top-ranked penalty killing unit at a stingy 90% overall efficiency, they've been almost airtight away from home.

93.6% ON THE ROAD

The Oilers had allowed just four goals against on 63 opposition attempts for a percentage of 93.6 - compared to 86.6 at home - when the puck dropped against the Blackhawks.

Last night, they improved their totals by killing 10 of 10 penalties, making it 23 straight kills in their past four games.

"It's all in the goaltending, the willingness to block shots and get into the shooting lanes, the structure and the experience in the personnel," coach Craig MacTavish said. "We've had quite a few of those elements all year long. It's a little surprising, I guess, that we're No. 1, because it's not easy to do in today's game, but it sure reduces the pressure on your power play, which is important for us right now."

While the Oilers power play went 1-for-5 in Friday's 2-0 win in Dallas, it's been hovering in the middle of the pack and can't be expected to improve substantially with Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky injured. The Oilers have mitigated that while shorthanded.

"It starts with our forecheck," said penalty killer Jarret Stoll. "On the penalty kill some people think that maybe you don't get on the forecheck, but we don't like to do that. We get up ice and force things.

"The penalty killing is only good if everybody is on the same page. We have been. If that's not the case, you're going to get scored on."

SAVARD'S TURNAROUND

The Hawks were a banged up and deflated bunch under ex-coach Trent Yawney when the Oilers beat them 5-1 at Rexall on Nov. 24, but they've been re-invigorated under Denis Savard.

"It looks like they're more aggressive skating," MacTavish said. "There's less retreating on defence, which you see a lot in the league today. They're going forward more. It's hard to assess because we saw them at a time when they were really beat up, but they are definitely energized and back, I would guess, to playing the way they were at the start of the year."

With points in six straight games after a 5-4 OT loss in Minnesota Saturday, a game which marked the return of high-scoring star Martin Havlat from a sprained ankle, the Blackhawks are pushovers no more.

"It's no easy feat getting points in six games in a row," MacTavish said. "It's not a fluke. They're playing good hockey."

BONDRA ON BOARD

The Hawks bolstered their roster yesterday by signing free-agent Peter Bondra to a one-year deal worth $500,000, plus incentives.

"He's a tremendously fit athlete who will add more speed and skill to our line-up," Chicago GM Dale Tallon said.

Bondra, 38, who played with Atlanta last season, needs just two goals to reach 500 for his career and he has 878 points in 1,044 NHL games. He could be in the lineup as early as tomorrow against St. Louis.


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