SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers not kiddin' around

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- There are any number of good reasons why a coach would be reluctant to put his three youngest, smallest forwards together on the same line.

They're too young, for one thing.

They're too small, for another.

And offensive-minded kids tend to be dangerous at both ends of the ice -- it's quite often a coin flip as to which net they'll be fishing a puck out of.

But the trio of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson gave Craig MacTavish two very good reasons to keep them together for tonight's game in Tampa: Gagner's goal at 15:55 of the second period in Atlanta and Nilsson's goal at 13:57 of the third.

Throw in Cogliano's goal late in the Carolina game, when MacTavish put the unit together out of sheer desperation, and they've scored three times in four periods.

Compare that to the combined point total generated by Marty Reasoner, Ethan Moreau, Fernando Pisani, Jarret Stoll, Zack Stortini and Kyle Brodziak through the first three games of this trip -- zero -- and you can see why MacTavish might want to latch on to anything that looks like it knows which end of a stick you're supposed to shoot with.

"You get some goals out of Stollie, normally, or Ethan or Fernie, but when those guys dry up offensively you need somebody to step up," said MacTavish. "Those guys made good plays all night long. They were in the right spots all night long. They not only added the offence but played a very complete game.

"They look good. They're sure proving that they can play together, so far."

So far. He says that because there is an inherent risk in icing a line on which the average age is 20, the average weight is 187 and the average number of times they've been around the block is none.

They can be pushed around and will probably have trouble standing up to another team's cycle. But when they've got the puck on the fly or they're buzzing the other team's goal, it's exciting to watch.

"We're all young guys, pretty good friends, and we've developed some chemistry," said Gagner, 18. "We can read each other pretty well. If we have problems with what we're doing we're able to talk about it with each other, which makes it a lot easier.

"It's been a good fit and hopefully we can keep it going."

Added Cogliano, 20: "We know where the other guys are going to be and we're all pretty good passers, we know how to get in the right spots and get open. And our speed is definitely a factor. All we have to worry about is playing strong defence, not giving up goals."

Exactly. As soon as they start giving up more than they get -- entirely possible, considering all three guys had scoring droughts of 12 games or more this year --MacTavish will have to revisit the experiment.

"We have to be on the top of our game to play," said Nilsson, 23. "We have to play with a little desperation-- not too much, though. We can't be three guys down low and not have the third guy high. We just need to play a smart game.

"We all three have offence. It's the defensive game that worries the coach, I think."

It's a short leash, to be sure, but in lieu of anyone else stepping up to take on some of the supplemental scoring, MacTavish has to ride the hot hands.

"The more we play in their end, the more we're not in our end, obviously," said Cogliano. "That's why we had a lot of success last game, we weren't hemmed in our zone too much. That's big for us. We don't want to be in situations where we're going against big guys, six-foot-three, and trying to out-battle them in the defensive zone.

"We need to make smart plays getting the puck out of our zone. If we can be a second or third line that contributes here and there, I think that would be good for the team."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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