SUN Hockey Pool

Special teams killing Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Anybody know where the Oilers can get some mining lights and a few shovels?

They need to tunnel down to the bottom of the penalty-kill rankings so they can wipe their slate clean for the New Year.

"You just have to forget about '08, and start again," said captain Ethan Moreau as the Oilers returned to work yesterday after a New Year's Eve defeat in Calgary, in which the Flames scored three times with the extra man.

"If we can go the rest of the year at 85 or 90%, we'll win a lot more games."

That's why head coach Craig MacTavish had a meeting on the subject yesterday and dedicated a big chunk of practice to killing penalties.

"We made some adjustments," Moreau said. "We're going to simplify it a little bit."

It's too late to do anything about their humiliating numbers through the first 36 games, but shoring up their wretched penalty kill is Priority No. 1 for 2009.

And with good reason -- teams that far down the stats sheet don't make the playoffs. Not unless they are sensational in another area of the game, and in case you hadn't noticed, the Oilers aren't.

They either fix their PK, or they miss the post season, again.

Simple as that.

"You can't make up for a 30th, 29th or 28th-ranked penalty kill," said MacTavish. "We can't, not with the offence we have. We're decent offensively, but you have to be spectacular to overcome that.

"It was the main contributor to our last couple of losses."

It's the penalty kill, having given up 42 goals in 36 games, that's dragging everything down. Only 10 times this season has the PK pitched a shutout, and the Oilers are 8-2 in those games.

So, yeah, it's important.

"If you win that (special teams) battle, you're going to win games," Moreau said. "It's no secret that special teams and goaltending win 90% of the games."

Because of off-season deals involving the likes of Jarret Stoll, Marty Reasoner and Matt Greene, the Oilers' penalty kill, which has been a strong suit the last few years, has languished in 29th for most of this season.

They're killing momentum, killing morale, and killing playoff hopes.

Killing everything but penalties.

"It's been a problem all year, let's be honest," said centre Shawn Horcoff. "If the penalty kill would be even in the top half of the league, we'd probably have six or eight more points.

"We had a good meeting about it, we practised it, it's just going to take more focus and more work."

Starting in the faceoff circle, where Edmonton was a dreadful 18% while shorthanded against the Flames.

"When you lose guys like Stollie and Marty, guys that at any given moment can go out there and win draws for you, it's a big loss," Horcoff said. "Especially with the new rules."

Moreau is hoping a fresh start can change things.

"It's a lot like the powerplay,"he said. "A powerplay can get really hot and score a lot of goals for you, and the PK can be like it has this year where it just seems that everything goes wrong, every shot has a chance to go in.

"You have to go out there and have a lot of confidence in your ability, believing that we'll be 100% on the PK."

For the record, the Dallas Stars, who visit Edmonton tonight (8 p.m., CBC), have the NHL's 29th-ranked road powerplay.


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