SUN Hockey Pool

Shootout gang

DEREK VAN DIEST

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

It's becoming as surreal as it is practically automatic.

With Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, the Edmonton Oilers improved their shootout record to a league-best 9-1.

And had they been able to get into a shootout against the Dallas Stars on the first of their recent three-game road trip, they could have 10 shootout wins.

"It's like being in Vegas up a couple of thousand," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "You're playing with house money, and all of a sudden that $20 bet isn't that intimidating.

"When you're 9-1 in the shootout, you go into those situations pretty loose and if something bad does happen, it's not the end of the world because of the record that we have. That allows the players to relax."

The only game the Oilers have lost in a shootout this season came in Colorado in November.

Since then, they've rattled off six straight SO wins, including two on the three-game trip where they were able to earn five of a possible six points and clawed their way back to within a game of the .500 mark.

They opened the trip with a 5-4 loss to the Stars in overtime.

"In large part it's been the goaltending," said MacTavish. "And Horc (Shawn Horcoff) has had great numbers in the shootout, as has Ales (Hemsky) and (Sam) Gagner.

"When you have great goaltending that is not letting in any goals and you have shooters that are as confident as our shooters are right now, it's a good combination."

On Thursday, Hemsky scored the shootout winner against the Red Wings, while Dwayne Roloson stopped all three Detroit shooters. Two nights earlier, Horcoff converted the deciding shot to give the Oilers the victory as Mathieu Garon turned aside every shooter he faced.

It was Horcoff's third shootout goal in three attempts this season.

"Ever since Horc's worked his way into the rotation, he's made me regret not having him there sooner," MacTavish said. "It's at the point where I could get a stamp right now with the shooters' names on it and stamp the sheet right now for (tonight's) game if we needed."

Previously Gagner had been the shootout hero with three winners to his name. Between Horcoff, Hemsky and Gagner, they have accounted for eight of the winning shootout goals this season. Jarret Stoll scored the winner on opening night to give the Oilers a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.

But with Gagner's ability to make goaltenders look completely foolish - forcing them to pick up certain parts of their equipment when it's over - Horcoff's knack for picking corners and Hemsky's bag of tricks, it's become almost a certainty that at least one of them is going to score in the shootout on a given night.

"From my standpoint, going in, I have a lot of confidence that the guys behind me are going to score," Gagner said.

"It just makes it easier for me to have a lot of confidence and be able to try new things."

In Detroit, Gagner looked to have Dominik Hasek at his mercy during the shootout, but the veteran goalie was able to stop the Oilers rookie with essentially a desperation flop across the net.

In St. Louis, Blues goaltender Hannu Toivonen didn't bite on Gagner's first move, forcing the rookie to go to his backhand where he was unable to lift a shot into the open side.

Regardless, Gagner's shootout reputation is growing.

"With the success that Hemmer's had in the shootouts and Horc's had in the shootouts, it makes it a lot easier," Gagner said. "And Matty (Mathieu Garon) has been great - he's only let in one shootout goal this year, and Roli (Dwayne Roloson) has been great. He's made some big saves when we needed him, too. It's been a winning combination of late, and hopefully we can keep it going for the rest of the season."


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