SUN Hockey Pool

PK unit struggling

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Killing penalties used to be a great source of pride for the Edmonton Oilers.

With a head coach who specialized in the discipline during his playing days, it was understandable why they're annually among the best in the league.

But so far this season, the Oilers are the ones getting killed while shorthanded.

On Thursday they gave up three power-play goals in a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"Good penalty killing is all about work ethic," said centre Shawn Horcoff. "We've always had a team that's prided itself in working hard, blocking shots and giving up their bodies to do that.

"We still have that here, it's just a matter of finding it again. We've had stretches where we've been real successful at it and there are games like last night we gave up three, which for us, is unheard of."

Thursday was the fourth time this season the Oilers have given up more than one odd-man goal in a contest.

With the three they gave up to the Maple Leafs, the Oilers now have the second-worst penalty-killing unit in the league, with a 71.6% efficiency rate.

"We're not doing a good job," said Oilers forward Kyle Brodziak. "We haven't done a good job all year of getting in lanes, stopping shots coming from the point, and teams are capitalizing on them.

"When you give NHL teams chances that we've been giving them, they're going to score.

"We have to make sure we do a better job of keeping things tighter, try to turn more pucks over and keep the puck from getting to our net from the point."

Two of Toronto's power-play goals came from the point.

Tomas Kaberle managed to get a well-placed shot through a screen past Oilers goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. The Leafs' defenceman then had another point shot tipped in by Nikolai Kulemin.

In the third, Mikhail Grabovski was left all alone in the slot for the Maple Leafs' fifth goal of the contest.

"Everyone who is on the penalty kill has been on it before and they're all capable of doing it," Brodziak said.

"We are all more than willing to get in front of shots and block them. But I don't know why we haven't done a good job of it."

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for the Oilers' struggles on the penalty kill is the absence of Jarret Stoll, who was traded to the Los Angeles Kings during the off-season.

The former Oilers centre had a knack for breaking up passes through the box and won a majority of the defensive zone faceoffs.

"It's been just a lot of the basics," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "We're out of sync. We're not getting into those shooting lanes, those passing lanes. Two of those goals (Thursday) were a direct result of that. One was from a shooting lane right in the middle of the ice.

"Our checking level is not good. We're not dislodging pucks when we're checking, we're not very active with our sticks. And we're not winning a lot of draws with our special teams."

Despite their struggles shorthanded, the Oilers are determined not to let it affect their even-strength game.

"You can't think like that," said Fernando Pisani. "You can't go into games thinking that if your PK is not going to do the job for you, then you have to play differently.

"Our style is an aggressive style of game. We can't sit back and let teams come to us. If we do, we're not playing our brand of hockey."


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