Dawn of the Shawn

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

SUNRISE -- You know it's a good year when there's 30 games left in the season and you're already reaching career highs. Despite all that's going wrong for the Edmonton Oilers this season, Shawn Horcoff is going right.

With 21 goals this year, he's one shy of his personal best set two years ago. If he continues at his point a game clip, he'll break his single season record for points (73), too.

He, Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner have been the only constant in a constantly frustrating Oilers season.

"I just think it's the most comfortable we've been," said Edmonton's representative in Sunday's All-Star game. "A lot has to do with me changing my game a bit to become more of a shooter."

In previous years, he and Hemsky were both looking to pass first and ask questions later. Now, Horcoff, eighth among NHL centres in goals scored, is emerging as the triggerman Hemsky's always needed.

"We mesh a lot better together now," said Horcoff. "When you're both thinking pass, we were giving up the good opportunities. For myself, it's a mindset of getting to the open ice and finding the open areas and try to get those shots off.

"I've always wanted to have that, but hockey is such a fast game that 95% of the time you're doing the first thing that comes into your head."

And for his whole career, Horcoff, who had 14 goals and 51 assists in his final year in the NCAA, fancied himself more of a setup man.

"To train your mind to change it when it's been used to something for 20 years, is not an easy thing to do," he said. "It took a lot of work and it hasn't been easy."

He seems to have found the right formula for playing with Hemsky.

"I try to get it into his hands in the right area, when he can be most creative," said Horcoff. "The worst thing you can do is give it to Hemmer when he's got a lot of people around him because he's always going to try and make a play. I've done a better job of realizing, wait a minute, there's two guys on Hemmer, that means there's no one on me."

And Penner's evolution since joining the Oilers has also contributed to Horcoff's breakout season. Penner is a handful down low - the opposing team often has to double team him - leaving more time and space for Hemsky and Horcoff.

"He's taking the body a lot more and creatng a lot of ice in the offensive zone for us,"said Horcoff. "He's being physical, winning those battles and giving it right back to us. He's starting to figure out what it takes to be successful on the line and we're starting to figure out what his strengths are."

A JOKE NO MORE

Edmonton's power play was a 30th-place laughingstock for most of this season, but it has really come around in the last few weeks. It scored 11 goals in the last 11 games.

"It has a lot to do with comfort level and chemistry," said Horcoff. "In the first 20 games of the year it was different guys every game. It's understandable when you're struggling that the coaches are trying to change things, but at the same time it's tough to build any sort of chemistry and comfort level.

"We were running certain plays and it was just too confusing. Now we just keep it a lot more simple."

He Said It

"You can't say enough about the young guys on our team this year. There's going to be some growing pains and there's going to be stretches where they're not great, but overall this is as good a class of young guys that I've seen come into a team."


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