Oiler shooters stuck in neutral

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

SAN JOSE -- Six shots through 40 minutes in Calgary.

Outshot 21-4 in the second period against Minnesota.

Outshot 39-13 against San Jose.

That's no way to get yourself back in the playoff race.

The Edmonton Oilers better find a way to get their shots together or a playoff spot that's already a dot on the distant horizon will vanish altogether.

"You don't want to be in your own zone all the time, chasing guys around, covering guys in front of your net," said defenceman Tom Gilbert.

"It's just more physically draining than being on the offensive."

But three times in the last six games, Edmonton spent almost the entire game on its heels.

The quick answer is to blame the forwards, but the problem is being traced to Edmonton's breakout play, which is currently breaking down.

Apply a little pressure to Edmonton's defence and the shift turns into a fire drill.

"Both games (Calgary and Minnesota) we were really sloppy in our breakouts," said MacTavish.

"We have to be better in that respect. It's not like we're asking them to do something they haven't done in the past because at times we've broken the puck out very well.

"But in the last couple of games we've had quite a bit of difficult."

Have teams figured Edmonton out? Picked up something on film that they're all going to exploit from here on in? If not, they're about to.

It's a video world, and you can be assured that every team Edmonton plays from here on in will be studying film from those games and throwing the exact same aggressive forecheck at them.

"Until you can prove that you can withstand the pressure and the pinch, you're going to see a lot of it," said MacTavish.

The onus is on the defence to move the puck more quickly, and on the forwards to come back and close the gaps.

"It's one of the most difficult plays in the game, to get back there and pivot and do the right thing with the puck," said Steve Staios.

"But we have to keep the puck moving, even if the only play is just to move it up the wall."

Taking an extra half-second to make a decision can mean the difference between starting a rush the other way and having to fight off a cycle for half a minute.

"If we get back and get the puck out right away that's our best chance," said Gilbert.

"If you don't you usually end up in your own zone for at least 30 seconds. For us, it's that first pass, getting past their forecheck. Sometimes we're getting caught holding on to it, or we're too slow, and we get trapped. That's when we end up in our zone."

Which makes it pretty difficult for the forwards to generate much offence.

"As much as scoring goals is an onus you put on the forwards, the defence have to help out," said Staios.

"Same thing in defending and breaking out. The game has to be played in five man units."


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