SUN Hockey Pool

Tambellini not shuffling deck

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

If the Craig MacTavish haters in Edmonton were wondering if Oilers management might take a lesson from the Ottawa Senators, rest assured they have.

Less than one year after the Sens fired head coach John Paddock because the team wasn't responding, they fired his replacement Craig Hartsburg, who couldn't get them to respond, either.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, also loaded with high-end players, are on their third coach in the last 11 months, and still can't get it going.

Firing the coach, it seems, isn't an automatic cure for mediocre talent and lukewarm passion, two of Edmonton's most debilitating ailments at the moment.

"Our job is to get better from within, first," said general manager Steve Tambellini, when asked at yesterday's Oilers practice if a coaching change might be what's needed to shake a little consistency into the team.

"We have to look from the inside out sometimes - how do we get better as a group."

Besides, he said, it's not like the club is in crisis. As of yesterday morning, there were only eight teams in the NHL with three or more wins than Edmonton.

"We're right in the middle of a playoff run here, we were in fifth place a couple of days ago," Tambellini said.

"Aside from the top couple of teams, that's what you see -the grouping of teams. There's maybe four points that separate fourth place to 10th place, that's just the way it is. It's close, it's tight.

"This coaching staff is working hard; Craig is one of the top coaches in this business and we're right there. The coaching staff is doing a good job."

That's why MacTavish has management's full backing when he cracks the whip, like he did on Dustin Penner and a few others over the last two days.

"That's part of the job of a coach, that grind where you're trying to maximize the potential of a player.," said Tambellini.

"Sometimes it's confronting, sometimes it's ice time. He's trying to make sure it's there every night.

"All he's asking from all our players is that total commitment. Not just one player who's had a poor game here or there, we need it from everyone."

Like they had against Minnesota in a convincing 3-1 win.

"That intensity, that commitment to do whatever it takes to win a hockey game is there, you can't tell me that it's not there," he said.

"We've seen it when players arise emotionally. It's there. That's what he's looking for on a daily basis."

Meanwhile, Sam Gagner returned to practice yesterday after eight days off to rest a chronically sore ankle and expects to play this evening against Chicago.

"I felt good today," said the 19-year-old centre.

"It was a short practice but we did some things where it was tested and it felt good. There were times when I had to engage physically and it felt good, it reacted well.

"Hopefully, in the game I can go in without hesitation and battle hard and get a good result."


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