Top line shot down

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- Luck has nothing to do with it.

Without a definitive answer as to how the Edmonton Oilers can look so good one game and so lousy the next, Craig MacTavish decided an honest 90 minutes of hard work was the next best thing yesterday.

So, that's what the Oilers got after stinking like rank cheese in a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center Sunday.

On a three-game winning streak after a 4-0 win over Vancouver, a 3-1 decision over Carolina and a 2-0 blanking of Dallas to open a three-game road swing, the Oilers were ripe Limburger against the Blackhawks.

And it was three of the Big Cheeses - Petr Sykora, Shawn Horcoff and Joffrey Lupul - who filled MacTavish's nostrils as much as anybody on an afternoon the Oilers paraded to the penalty box and gave half an effort.

Yesterday was about the smell of sweat.

"When you have an answer to that question, you let me know," MacTavish said to a reporter trying to understand the about-face in form. "That will make you a lot of money some day.

"I don't know. The reason we were having success is we were playing a pretty good four-line game.

"When you take that amount of penalties, the easy answer is the penalties took us out of that four-line game.

"A lot of it is penalties, but the execution 5-on-5 was not at a level that it should have been."

Sykora, Horcoff and Lupul were a combined minus-7 against Chicago, with Lupul going minus-3. The trio managed a cumulative five shots and rattled a couple of pucks off the pipe, but they flat-out didn't get it done.

"Horc's line was bad the last game," MacTavish said. "They weren't anywhere close to being good.

"Not just offensively, but defensively. And just being in the right areas and being more committed - just play within themselves and play to their strengths. They collectively didn't get anything going."

The trio had company. The Oilers took the first seven minors and put Chicago on the power play 10 times, including three times in 5-on-3 situations.

Still, more is expected from a top line.

"Petr had some chances, but he missed the net," MacTavish said. "Lupes was getting knocked off the puck, which is happening over and over again. For a guy that size, you have to win a few battles to have success at this level.

"Horc took a couple of penalties in a row and then started trying to make some inadvisable plays. You know, 85-foot saucer passes and forcing things through instead of just playing together, playing the game with some continuity and trying to create offence that way instead of trying to get lucky.

"When we try to get lucky offensively, we generally give up a lot. It's a certain stubbornness. A certain amount of arrogance, I guess, that you feel like you're all of a sudden going to make that type of play. They just have to get back to playing a good team game instead of trying to get lucky."

The Oilers drilled with limited breaks for the full 90 minutes, with particular attention being paid to going to the net, tipping pucks and creating havoc in front of Dwayne Roloson and Jussi Markkanen.

The Oilers could've used the injured Ryan Smyth, but somebody else is going to have to do the dirty work until he's ready to play.

"My sense as a coach is when you have an effort like that is that you collectively pay a price and you throw them all back out there and try to give them an opportunity to turn it around," MacTavish said.


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