SUN Hockey Pool

Kid Line skating on thin ice

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- With the wolves at their front and back doors heading out on this two-game road trip, the Oilers can no longer afford to invest 17 minutes a night on players who aren't producing diddly.

That means you, kids.

For a quarter of a season, Craig MacTavish has been handing over almost a third of every game to Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano, but simple math tells you that a grand total of nine goals between them does not warrant that kind of premium ice.

Frankly, the Kid Line has been hurting more than helping, so they'll be tethered to a short leash this afternoon in St. Louis.

"They've got to show me during the game that they're going to be effective," said MacTavish.

"It's based on performance for them -- they have to show us something pretty early in the game to warrant the quality minutes they've had up until this point.

"If they're ineffective then they won't see the minutes. We've gone through the gamut of trying them on different lines, with very limited success. My sense right now is I hope they get out of it, but I'm not convinced they can immediately."

He says they just haven't shown the same spark they did last season.

"It was like four of them out there because they cover the ice so quickly and they support the puck so well," said MacTavish. "Right now, the play is dying with them."

THINK POSITIVE

The Oilers brought along their sports psychologist for the trip, presumably to talk a few guys down from the ledge.

But Shawn Horcoff says the players themselves have been making a point of blocking out the negative vibes.

"You have to stay positive,"he said. "We're trying to keep it more upbeat. You have to. You can't play hockey the way you want to when everything is sagging. If your emotions are low, it hurts your confidence and it hurts your game."

Staying upbeat when the team is in the toilet, the coach is getting roasted and you, or your buddy in the next stall, could be gone by the end of the week, isn't easy.

"It's tough but you have to do it," said Horcoff. "It doesn't do anyone any good to be moping around with their head down because nobody else is going to fix this but us."

* Zack Stortini draws back into the lineup tonight after a few games in the press box.

He's going through a sophomore jinx of his own after carving out a niche for himself last year, his first full season in the league.

"There's nothing that he won't do, he's maybe the most coachable guy I've ever had," said MacTavish. "It's just a case of making some plays with the puck. You never question his will, or his commitment to play physically, it's just getting players he can be effective with, much like he was last year."

The Oilers could use someone like that Curtis Glencross guy in Calgary.

* Fans wanting to see Rob Schremp and Gilbert Brule get their chance to spark Edmonton's offence might not have to wait much longer.

If the Oilers don't start scoring soon, MacTavish says they'll be the next two in the airlift.

"If we continue to struggle we'll be seeing Schremp and Brule pretty quick," said MacTavish. "They're putting up some pretty good numbers down there."


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