SUN Hockey Pool

'Good skill set here,' GM says

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Steve Tambellini is convinced the Edmonton Oilers are a good hockey club, even though recent results would suggest otherwise.

Therefore, the team's general manager is not prepared to make any drastic changes, confident things will eventually turn around.

"We know that there is a good skill set here," Tambellini said during the Oilers' practice at Millennium Place yesterday. "Are we surprised that we haven't scored as much as what we think we can? Yes. I think we have the potential to score more than we have, but it hasn't happened at this point.

"But we're confident that it's going to pick itself up."

IN 14TH PLACE

The Oilers dropped to 14th place in the Western Conference standings following Wednesday's listless 2-1 loss, at home, to the Los Angeles Kings. Heading into last night's play, only the Dallas Stars had fewer points.

This weekend, the Oilers are heading back out on the road to face the St. Louis Blues tomorrow and the Stars the following day.

Having won just five of their last 17 games, questions are starting to be asked about whether the team is as good as was advertised at the start of the season.

"The players have to produce, they have to play regardless of system or pressure, whatever the situation is, that's their job," Tambellini said. "We're working hard, we're underachieving in some areas - especially in offensive output - but I think everyone will agree that there is enough skill on this hockey team to be a good offensive team."

The additions of Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky this year had the Oilers optimistic heading into their 30th-anniversary season.

Combined with the return of Sheldon Souray and Shawn Horcoff from injury, some were touting the Oilers to challenge for a division title.

But Cole has yet to find the form that, at one time, made him a 30-goal scorer, settling for three goals in his first 21 games with the Oilers. He's on pace to score 12 goals this season, his lowest total since entering the league.

Horcoff is on pace for 20 goals after netting 21 in 53 games last year.

The second-year players are all struggling as well.

Dustin Penner has four goals, Robert Nilsson has three, Sam Gagner and Marc Pouliot have one.

"A lot of times it's hard work, a lot of times for a skilled player it's being in a relaxed mode where you feel confident," Tambellini said. "It's a fine line where you're feeling confident and loose and the puck is going in for you. Sometimes you just need a little success and then the momentum builds and you get on a roll."

PHYSICAL SPARK

So far the Oilers have tried to let their goal scorers work through their problems, opting to call up physical players from the minors to give the team a physical spark.

But Rob Schremp (one goal, 17 assists), Ryan Potulny (10 goals, six assists) and Gilbert Brule (eight goals, four assists) are all putting up solid numbers with the Springfield Falcons.

"That's an option," Tambellini said. "We have people here that are strong offensive players. We do have players down there that are playing well and eventually they'll get a shot.

"We still have faith in this group. We feel we are capable of having a strong weekend. We need a good effort against St. Louis."

However, if things don't turn around soon, changes will have to be made.

This team was designed, not only to make the playoffs this season, but go on a run in the post-season.

"That assessment is always one that is ongoing," Tambellini said. "We're 21 games into the season and we had a tough travel schedule early on. I think it's more reasonable now that it was in the first 15 games.

"It's an ongoing assessment, you're always going to try and get better every game and if there is something out there that makes sense for our team to get better, we'll consider it. But right now this is what we have and our job is to get better."


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