Nobody can question Lupul's effort

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Anybody who watched Joffrey Lupul play in Tuesday's 3-2 loss in Nashville can see he's trying.

That's not a question in this corner of the rink, despite Lupul and linemates Shawn Horcoff and Petr Sykora being called out by Craig MacTavish Monday after a bad night by the line, and everybody in Edmonton Oilers silks, in a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks the night before.

Trying, of course, hasn't got Lupul much lately. He managed six shots in Nashville and three in Chicago, getting zip, nada - save for stinging ears and weary legs in a thinly disguised bag skate after the United Center mess.

STUCK AT NINE GOALS

What Lupul, stuck at nine goals after 30 games and with none in his last four, needs is a break around the net. What he needs even more is a centre he can get familiar with and somebody who can read his game and get him the rubber when he needs it.

That's not a shot at Horcoff, by the way, but rather how it looks from here as MacTavish has been forced to rejig his lines because of the losses of Ethan Moreau, Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky.

If anything, Lupul has been lost in that shuffle, and it's not likely to change until MacTavish has a full lineup or GM Kevin Lowe acquires a play-making centre - the puck-moving defenceman the Oilers so obviously need wouldn't hurt, either.

Until then ...

"It would be nice to get some set lines, but we don't really have that luxury now because we're missing three of our top nine," Lupul says. "The lines are going to change when Hemmer and Smytty and Ethan get back."

Still only 23 and coming off a season with Anaheim in which he scored 28 goals and added nine more in playoffs, Lupul has long had a reputation for finding the net. He scored 30 in just 65 games with Cincinnati in the AHL in 2004-05. He had 127 in three seasons with Medicine Hat of the WHL.

Contrary to all the beefing about his performance thus far, Lupul's hands have not turned to wood. His confidence? Well, that's seen better days, but I don't see him sulking or whining. That's a start.

"With Joffrey, it's never a case of a lack of effort," MacTavish said. "He's a hard-working guy and I see intensity.

"It's just a case with him, and other players as well, of trying to increase their efficiency level. Not only with the puck but without the puck. You just want to get more efficient in all areas of the game and that'll lead to offence."

Fine. Good. But know this: despite his goal-scoring prowess, Lupul isn't a dangler capable of weaving his way through an entire defence the way somebody like Hemsky can. Lupul is a finisher.

He'll find open ice. What he needs is the puck when he gets there.

"As we get into the second half, we'll probably have some lines that are more concrete," Lupul says. "Right now, we just have to try to make it work.

"Right now, I just have to make things happen on my own a little bit. I'm not a guy who is going to beat a guy one-on-one all that often. I'm a pretty quick skater, so I can beat a guy like that, but I'm not going to put it through a guy's legs twice like Hemmer does."

NEEDS A DISHER

Maybe Horcoff is the guy. Maybe Marty Reasoner. Don't laugh. Reasoner can deal the biscuit. Maybe it's, well, pick a name off another roster.

Whoever it is, Lupul needs time with a steady pivot who can dish it. Hell, he scored 28 playing beside Todd Marchant a lot of the time in Anaheim.

He doesn't need the second-coming of Mario Lemieux to be productive.

"I've got to score some goals getting to the net," Lupul said.

"If I hang around there long enough, I'm going to start to get goals. I mean, I've seen Smytty do it, although he's obviously a little better at it than me."

Different player. Different needs. A centre, please.


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