SUN Hockey Pool

Feeling 'boxed in'

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

All it took for Pavlov to make his dog salivate at the sound of a bell was to ring it before every meal.

A little Puppy Chow, a little ding, a little repetition and voila, there's your Conditioned Reflex Action.

The Edmonton Oilers are hoping Matt Greene isn't being similarly trained in the pre-season.

BOXED IN

The way things have been going lately, it's only a matter of time before he starts heading to the nearest penalty box every time he hears a whistle.

"It's something I have to figure out," said the big defenceman, who's been rung up for five minors in the last two games. "I've been making bad plays with my hands in bad spots."

Greene had the Sean Brown hat trick against Toronto on Tuesday: interference in the first period, high sticking in the second and holding in the third.

The next game in Vancouver it was interference in the first period and holding in the second before an intermission chat with Craig MacTavish ended the streak at five periods. Edmonton's opponents scored on two of the power plays.

"I don't know if they're picking on me or what, but I've been playing the same way for the last couple of years."

When he played in the Stanley Cup final as a rookie, Greene did become a referee's favourite target; they seemed to pick on him because of his strong, aggressive style. But the latest calls aren't of the dog spit variety. MacTavish says he deserves them.

"He's got to slow the game down for himself," said the coach, adding the third-year NHLer needs to learn how to pick his spots more effectively.

"Some players you have to try and work some intensity into their game, and then there's Matt where you try and work some intensity out of his game."

Meaning he doesn't have to defend every inch of defensive zone real estate like it's his back door and a burglar is trying to break in.

"His first inclination is just to pole ax everybody," said MacTavish.

"He turns those non-dangerous battles into something that becomes a life and death struggle in an area where it shouldn't be that intense.

"He just has to slow the game down a little bit. When he does that he'll be fine. We talked about it a little bit in here and I thought he was better in the third (against Vancouver).

It's not easy being Greene - playing the tough, intimidating shut-down game Edmonton wants from him isn't always possible within the confines of the rules. Playing on the edge while walking a fine line can be a difficult and frustrating balancing act.

"It is a little bit,"he said. "You want to be physical, it's a contact sport. You're brought up to have that physical contact when you play defence, keep the other body away from your net.

"That's what you're taught to do growing up. It's a little tough to re-learn now, but everybody across the board has to do it, not just me. It's an adjustment that I really need to concentrate on these last few exhibition games."

TOO MANY PENALTIES

MacTavish says they all do. Edmonton took 11 minors, eight by defencemen, against the Leafs, and seven minors, not counting a couple of fights, against Vancouver.

"You never like to take that many penalties, and we were deserving of the ones we took," said MacTavish.

"You have to be more disciplined than that and that's something we're going to talk about. Lots."


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