Nilsson enters MacT's doghouse

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

It worked with Dustin Penner.

Kyle Brodziak got the message as well.

Now Edmonton Oilers winger Robert Nilsson has taken up residence in head coach Craig MacTavish's doghouse.

Nilsson, 23, was benched in the Oilers 3-2 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday, and is expected to watch tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes from the press box.

"I was expecting a lot more out of him," said MacTavish.

"He had a great opportunity playing with our best forward (Ales Hemsky) and he just didn't show enough urgency in his game for me. That's plagued him through his career so far, the complacency and the laissez-faire attitude in which he conducts himself and plays the game.

"We need some fire and he's got a lot more skill than what we're seeing. He needs a different perspective ... he's taken the game for granted. We need more out of him."

Nilsson has four goals and six assists in 27 games this season after 41 points in 71 games last year.

"He's a poor checker right now and not getting much done offensively," MacTavish said.

"We've tried to work with him as much as we can.

"We've coddled him and talked to him, met with him about intensity, drive, fitness and work ethic in comparisons with other players who have similar attributes, who are getting a hell of a lot more out of their game.

"We've talked to him about it to the point where he now has to have a look at himself."

Acquired from the New York Islanders in the Ryan Smyth trade, Nilsson has had a rollercoaster career with the Oilers thus far. He was sent down to the minors last season before returning and becoming one of the Oilers most dynamic offensive players.

This year, with a new one-way contract in hand, he was expected to build on that.

"I just have to get back to work and show him that I'm a competer instead of a non-competer," Nilsson said.

"I still feel like we've been creating a lot of chances, even though we haven't been able to score.

"I think when you're not getting the chances, then you have to think about how you are playing the game. But I think we are still creating a lot of chances, so I don't know."

After the embarrassing loss to the Chicago Blackhawks followed by a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, Nilsson got an opportunity to play on the Oilers top line against the Anaheim Ducks.

He saw time on the power play, but as the game wore on, he became a spectator.

"It's just the same routine," MacTavish said.

"Sometimes subtlety is lost on a lot of players and you have to beat them over the head with a hammer and they have to learn things the hard way before they get the message.

"Quite clearly we're at that situation and we'll sit him out for a while and see how it goes. There's not much else we can do. We'll get him back in there at some point, then the rest is up to him."

Earlier this season, MacTavish similarily called out Penner. The winger came back and has collected 11 points in his last 13 games.

The hope is that Nilsson will react in a similar fashion.

"If you take your profession for granted, and all of a sudden you're on the outside looking in, it has a way of motivating everybody," MacTavish said. "That's the desired result.

"It's a progressive thing. It's not the first course of action with me for sure. Everyone likes to have a one-on-one, face-to-face, man-to-man talk with a player and hope that's all it takes ... If you don't get it then, you have to use a different tact, whether it's trying to embarrass a player in front of a teammate. Then the final tact is to sit a player out which is the most punitive."

Nilsson is not the only Oiler to have struggled this season.

It's his approach to the game that the Oilers head coach has a problem with. That's the message MacTavish is trying to get across.

"I know what he wants from me," Nilsson said. "That's what I have to try and give him."\


Videos

Photos