SUN Hockey Pool

Sam shrugs off slow start

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- In a way, it's like being asked not to think about white elephants.

Once in your head, it's tough not to.

Sam Gagner is trying not to think about the sophomore jinx. But without a point this season, it's not easy to keep it out of his head.

"I just have to try to focus as much as I can on not pushing too much and not worrying about it too much," Gagner said yesterday.

"When I do that, it only makes it worse, it makes it frustrating. I just have to continue to focus on the things I can control, prepare the same way every game and try to be sharp when I get those opportunities.

"If I'm pressing, I'm not going to be ready for those opportunities. I have to stay relaxed and hopefully I can pull it together a bit."

The second-year Oiler has been fielding questions on the sophomore subject the moment his rookie year came to an end.

That's the routine for every first year player who has a standout season.

Gagner had 49 points with the Oilers last season. Anything less this season would be considered disappointing.

"Sometimes the more difficult it becomes, the simpler you have to make it," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"He's one of the smaller guys, but when they're on top of their game, they play with a lot of conviction, they play with a lot of courage. That's going to the tough areas and getting pucks to those tough areas and adding an element of grit to their game.

"It's the game of hockey, that's what happens, you have to go to those tough areas and pay the price. That primes the well a little bit and you get some confidence and you get scoring. But we need a simple approach to the game offensively."

Yesterday in practice, Gagner and Andrew Cogliano skated on a unit with Dustin Penner after Robert Nilsson was moved up to the top line.

With one goal in their last two games, the Oilers are mixing up their usual line combinations.

"At this point the offence isn't where it needs to be," Gagner said.

"Things might need to be changed in order to get some things going. For us, it's up to everybody in here to contribute.

"Hopefully this can be a wakeup call, we can get more pucks to the net and create more chances and score more goals because of it."

Eventually Gagner will score a goal and the sense is he'll be on his way to improving on his offensive output last season.

He's getting chances offensively and, as it was pointed out, he only has two fewer goals than Alexander Ovechkin so far this season.

"If I wasn't creating anything, I would be worried a bit," he said. "I think the last few games I've been creating chances and getting things to the net. For whatever reason, pucks haven't been going in the net.

"I think once I get the first one things will ease off. Guys go through slumps all the time and mine just happens to be early in the season.

"It's something I can't worry too much about."

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WHO TO WATCH

Ales Hemsky, Oilers

Leads the team in scoring with five assists, but is still looking for his first goal.

Ryan Kesler, Canucks

Off to a flying start, with seven points in his first seven games.

COMING IN

Oilers (4-2-0) lost 4-1 to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday. Canucks (3-4-0) lost 4-2 to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Thursday.

HURT PARADE

Oilers: C Fernando Pisani (back). Canucks: RW Pavol Demitra (ribs); D Darcy Hordicuk (knee); D Rick Rypien (undisclosed); D Sami Salo (groin).

GAME NOTES

Fernando Pisani has returned to Edmonton for treatment on a back ailment, which kept him out of Thursday's game in Colorado ... Steve Staios rejoined the team after attending to a personal matter at home. He'll draw into the lineup relegating Ladislav Smid to the press box ... The Oilers flight from Denver was delayed yesterday as they had to wait for Republican presidential candidate John McCain to fly out. Last season a similar incident occurred with Democratic nominee Barack Obama in Chicago. At the time, the Oilers were not able to deplane until Obama did.


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