SUN Hockey Pool

MacT shouldn't play 'favourites'

BOB STAUFFER

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Given injuries and a slow start by some key forwards, it is fair to say that Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish has done a decent job this season, but old habits are hard to break.

While MacTavish has obviously made a concerted effort to be more positive with his young players, he still sees a couple of his favourites through rose-coloured glasses.

Case in point: Marty Reasoner.

Reasoner is an intelligent guy and a decent person, but at best he is just an average player.

CASE IN POINT

However, Reasoner is one of MacT's favourites and that was in evidence Thursday night against Colorado.

As the Oil got killed by the Avalanche cycle, the team got whistled for several infractions, meaning Reasoner and Kyle Brodziak saw plenty of time on the penalty kill.

In the second period, while killing one of those penalties, the two gained possession of the puck and tried to attack 2-on-2, but ended up throwing the puck back against the grain and creating an odd-man break for the Avs. Colorado ended up with sustained pressure in the Oilers zone. Fortunately, they did not score.

MacTavish did not bench either Reasoner or Brodziak. Do you think he would have benched Robert Nilsson if he had thrown the puck back against the flow and created an opposition odd-man break at, say, even-strength? You know the answer to that.

Through 22 games this season, Reasoner has one goal and is a minus-6. He is a serviceable NHLer, but do the Oilers need to start every PK with Reasoner and Brodziak, and then follow up with a pair of centres in the struggling Jarret Stoll and Shawn Horcoff?

How about forcing the opposition to alter their game plan a bit, maybe give Ales Hemsky a shift or two on the PK, actually giving your team a different look sometimes. If a team plays a fourth forward back on the point, are they leery if Hemsky is out on the ice?

Because MacTavish experienced first hand the benefit of having your best players out on the penalty kill, watching Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier kill penalties in the 1980s, it surprises me that he hasn't given Hemsky some time now - especially given the prolonged absence of Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani.

For those of you that think you can't have a guy like Hemsky blocking shots on the PK, I have news for you. Part of the reason why the Oilers injury woes have added up over the last two seasons hasn't just been an absence of a legitimate tough guy. The Oilers are too focused on playing "diving-on-the-grenade-for-each other" hockey during the regular season. It worked during the playoff run of 2006, but it is not conducive to success over the longterm in the regular season, because it contributes to injuries.

This is something that is lost on the Oil, who seem more focused on a player's stop-start speed and ability to block shots than allowing offensive guys to think the game and let the puck do the work for them.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

So let's get this right: the Oilers who are getting their show run on a regular basis can't dump a contract to pick up Todd Fedoruk off waivers? Fedoruk can actually play a bit, and by all accounts is a pretty good team player (Joni Pitkanen may disagree, the two had an altercation in practice last season in Philadelphia). Oh well, now Fedoruk gets to be Minnesota's No. 2 tough guy behind Derek Boogaard, while MacTavish continues to try to turn Zack "Huggy Bear" Stortini into a shutdown winger.

Speaking of Pitkanen, I have the sneaking suspicion that he will not last the season as an Edmonton Oiler.

Just don't know if Pitkanen is the right fit for Edmonton - kind of like Joffrey Lupul wasn't last season.

By the way, don't think for a second that Lupul would be putting up the same numbers in Edmonton that he is in Philadelphia right now. But then again, does that tell you something about Lupul, or something about the Oilers?


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