SUN Hockey Pool

Getting off to a hot start is crucial tonight

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

OK, warm milk and Shirley MacLaine movies are out.

So is a big tray of lasagna and two glasses of wine.

The Edmonton Oilers will have to find a new pre-game ritual to get themselves fired up for the opening faceoff because whatever they're doing now isn't working.

It's become almost a matter of course that they fall behind 2-0 and spend the rest of the night in a frantic game of catch-up.

"We're professionals, we have to find a way to be ready, there's no excuse," said centre Shawn Horcoff. "Whether it's five days off or you're playing back to back, there's just no excuses for not being ready to play.

"We're using the first 5, 7, 10 minutes to kind of feel our way into games and we don't have the liberty to do that. It's different if you're a team that's averaging four goals a game, but we're not. We have to be sharp right from the start."

Edmonton's opponents scored first in five of the last six games. In 23 games this season the Oilers have only led after 20 minutes five times. In other words, they've spent a lot of time trying to play from behind.

"We haven't done a good job at the start of games,"understated Kyle Brodziak. "Maybe it's just trying to feel our way into the game, which obviously we can't do. It hasn't just been the last two games, we've fallen behind 2-0 way too many times this year."

Sometimes it's a bad break or two that puts them down and sometimes they simply come out looking sluggish and disinterested and deserve to be behind, either way, it makes for a long night and a longer season.

"In St. Louis (two games ago) we started pretty poorly and they started hard," said MacTavish, adding they were better the next night. "In Dallas, Horcoff hit the post on the power play and their first goal (a pop-up off the goalie's head) was a crazy play.

"But until we get out of a first period with a lead or playing a really good first period ... we're going to continue to talk about our inability to start well."

They could use a good start tonight against an injury-ravaged Dallas team playing its second game in as many nights.

"It's been a topic of discussion here for a long time," said Horcoff. "As veteran players we talked about a few things on the plane ride home from Dallas that we're going to try and change.

"It's just focus, it's not effort. A lot of times that focus can lead to having slow feet or lazy feet because it can look like you're not trying, but really you're just not thinking the game fast enough."

Fans like to blame the coach for "not getting them ready," but Horcoff says fire and brimstone speeches only work in the movies and in Braveheart movies.

"I see in the media, people saying it's up to Mac," said Horcoff. "It's not, there's only so much a coach can say.

"Let's be honest - it's up to the player to get himself ready to play. Believe me, Mac's tried a lot of different angles to get us going. For me, I think it falls on the shoulders of the players having to be ready."

Once they get going, they're pretty good, but all too often they've run out of time.

"It seems like when we fall behind 2-0 we start getting more aggressive and playing harder and playing with more desperation," said Brodziak, "which is what we need to do from the start."


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