No bustin' from Dustin

Oilers Dustin Penner goes down from a hit by Nashville Predators Dan Hamhuis during NHL action at...

Oilers Dustin Penner goes down from a hit by Nashville Predators Dan Hamhuis during NHL action at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta on February 1, 2009. (Jordan Verlage/SunMedia)

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

In Vancouver, it's Mats Sundin.

In Edmonton it's Dustin Penner.

Between the two of them, you have the two biggest and most expensive floaters this side of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

And on consecutive nights, their coaches did the same thing. They pulled the goaltender to send out an extra attacker in the final minute and didn't send out the guys making the most money.

Actually, Oilers' bench boss Craig MacTavish benched his personal coach-killer for the third period of the inspired win over Minnesota on Friday, then took him off the first line for the third period of yesterday's uninspired loss against the Nashville Predators last night.

It was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser that the player he chose to replace Penner to get more hustle and determination on the first line was Robert Nilsson, but Nilsson at least managed to put the puck on Ales Hemsky's stick for the emerging superstar to score another great goal, his sixth in his past five games since returning to action after missing 10 games with a concussion.

But it wasn't enough to bring the Oilers back as they returned to the doghouse with a 2-1 loss to the Predators.

And the focus ended up on Penner, the Winkler, Man., product whom the Oilers gave a five-year $22 million US contract as a restricted free agent to make him the official wart-carrier among general managers.

NO-SHOW

Penner was a dressing room no-show after the game, sending word that he was "in the gym."

The previous game, MacTavish had been asked about benching Penner and replied: "Dustin lacks the consistency, night in and night out, but I wasn't upset with the lack of focus or energy. He just struggled with the puck."

Yesterday, he had more to say.

"He's lost his game. It's more than his play with the puck. When you have a guy like Hemsky playing the way he is right now, all you have to do is get him the puck somewhere between the hash marks in your own end and the red line and you are going to get a chance.

"Hemsky's an elite player playing at the top of the game and we have to find someone for him."

Hemsky had 23:17 of ice time last night and MacTavish looks like he's ready to use him like Glen Sather used to use Wayne Gretzky, playing him every second shift with either his own line or another one.

"He's at the point where he can handle the minutes. He couldn't handle the ice time and the minutes before. Any time I see he's not breathing hard, he's going out there."

But who knows what MacTavish is going to do with Penner now?

Asked if Penner can think the game well enough to play with somebody who thinks it and is now playing it at Hemsky's level, MacTavish gave an honest answer: No.

"It's a stretch for Penner to play in that position. When he's at the top of his game, he is able to play in that position. But it's a stretch.

"Right now, he's struggling as all players do and we need someone that can go in there and make some plays. I can't give him the ice time to try to get him out of it when we need a performance badly."

Thirteen media men returned to the dressing room to wait Penner out.

Finally, he appeared and admitted that his coach is right. He can't find his game.

'IT'S GONE'

"I don't know why. I just can't find it. If I knew why, I'd try to fix it right now. I know my game isn't there right now. All of a sudden you wake up one day and it's gone."

If it was just Penner, the Oilers would've won yesterday.

"We didn't have enough jam from our role players," said MacTavish. "It was a case of the (Joel) Wards and (Jarred) Smithsons outplaying four or five of our guys that we are counting on to do the same thing.

"To be an NHL player, you have to provide some consistency. If you don't have the stats to back up a stall in that dressing room, you better provide some jam. We didn't get enough of it early, and that was our undoing."

Ethan Moreau, the captain who played his butt off and took 13 shots at net and nine on goal, stood in the dressing room and almost bit on the first question about how he felt to do what he did and watch so many teammates throwing snow.

You could tell he wanted to spit it out, but he stopped.

"We didn't have the level of urgency. Tonight we didn't have everybody."

They had Moreau. They had Hemsky. They had Dwayne Roloson. But it wasn't a long list after that.


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