Cogliano finds another gear

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

He's tied for the team lead in goals, hasn't missed a start since turning pro 118 games ago, he can play on any line, he can intimidate seasoned veterans with his speed and, with seven game winners among his 30 career goals, he delivers in the clutch.

And the really scary part is that Andrew Cogliano appears to be getting better with age.

Midway through his sophomore season the 21-year-old is already closing in on his goal total for all of last season, despite being saddled much of the year with Kid Line linemates who couldn't get out of first gear.

"He's making a case that I have to try and find a way to get him some more ice time based on the way he's producing for us," said Craig MacTavish, after Cogliano's 12th of the season gave Edmonton a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Monday. "His game has really come a long way, especially his play with the puck. When he's transporting the puck he very rarely makes a mistake.

"Last year he used to take it into traffic a little bit. This year he's a handful one-on-one for the defenders. He has a nose for the net and he's not afraid to get there."

Even while wingers Sam Gagner slumped and Robert Nilsson alternated between warm and cold, Cogliano maintained his pace. Closing in on the halfway mark of the season, he has more goals than Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and Dustin Penner. More tallies than Gagner and Erik Cole combined.

"I'm just trying to contribute as much as possible; if the goals go in they go in," said Cogliano, whose play is forcing MacTavish to give him more power-play time (he currently ranks sixth among forwards in power play minutes per game at 2:06). "Right now I'm just doing everything simple. I'm going to the net at the right time and pucks are there."

Because of constant line juggling as MacTavish tried to help other players out of their slumps, Cogliano's been forced into transient labour for the Oilers, jumping from line to line. He seems to fit in everywhere.

"My game is pretty easy; guys know what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm going to use speed and go wide and play hard. I think I can fit on pretty much every line. It's good for me to know that I can be used in different situations."

Right now he's on the third line with Ethan Moreau and the suddenly productive Marc Pouliot. No surprise it's been a good fit for everyone.

"I feel pretty successful right now with Ethan and Poo," said Cogliano. "He's playing pretty well coming back from injury and Ethan is a guy who is always constantly talking to you, keeping you up on the bench, making you realize not to get satisfied.

"That's a big thing for me. Sometimes if I get a good start in a game I don't want to let up. He's an older guy who's on me on the bench to keep going and play hard. He's very good to play with."

TAKING A BREATHER

With five games in nine days counting Monday against the Isles, MacTavish gave the team yesterday off. It's a rarity that they don't practise the day before a game, but they play every second day between now and Jan. 20, so a rest had to come sometime.

"I thought long and hard about it," said MacTavish. "We're a tired group right now and we need a break. You get into these routines where it's every other day, it's just unrelenting."


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