SUN Hockey Pool

Top-line turmoil to end?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

They should put an EXIT sign above the revolving door that is Edmonton's first line, because if things keep going the way they have, that door will open right into an early summer.

And it'll happen so fast there won't even be time for the doorknob to hit their butts on the way out.

No team goes anywhere without a great first line, and lately Edmonton's No.1 trio, thanks to differing amounts of bad luck, bad health, bad hands and bad play, isn't even all that good.

The Oilers cried all season for secondary scoring, and now that they have a little, their primary scoring disappeared. So have the primary players for varying stretches over the last few weeks.

Craig MacTavish booted Penner off it for uninspired play. Ales Hemsky missed 10 games after a Jordin Tootoo hit. And Shawn Horcoff missed a couple of starts with a sore hip.

And Edmonton's offence dried up like earthworms on hot pavement.

They've scored just 14 goals in the last seven games, five of them losses. That stat is even uglier when you consider that five of those 14 goals came in 8-3 and 10-2 losses.

Horcoff, not counting the injury, has one goal in the last 17 games. Penner has two goals in his last 16 games and is minus six in his last seven starts. Even Hemsky, who returned from his concussion like a maniac (six points in two games) has slowed to two goals in his last seven and is minus-5 in that span.

Nowhere near good enough.

"We talked a little bit about it today," said Horcoff, after MacTavish re-united the first line in practice yesterday.

"Let's go, here - we've got 30 games left, everyone is back and everyone is feeling good so we want to re-establish ourselves as a good line, a line that can be counted on every night. There's no better time than now to start doing that."

Better late than never. Horcoff is back from a charley horse, Penner is back on the left side. Now all they have to do is deliver.

"That's the preference, where you get some productivity out of your first line," said MacTavish. "If we can get some consistency out of that top line that will go a long way to alleviating some of the offensive concerns we've had the past number of weeks."

When they're on, they can be a very effective trio. When they're off, they can jeopardize a game with their unproductive ice time.

"We know when all three of us are going we can outplay a lot of lines in the league," said Horcoff. "You need that, you need one line that you can count upon every night to be there - even if you're not scoring, just ... creating pressure and trying to build some momentum."

With the second line - Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner and Erik Cole - going a little bit, Horcoff, Penner and Hemsky realize a solid push from their line could make a significant difference in a stretch drive.

"We've played together for a long time," said Hemsky, who loves continuity. "We know each other, it's nice to play with somebody where you know what to expect.

"It's nice to stick with the same players for a little while, get the chemistry, get the line going."

TRUITT OUT: With the Springfield Falcons sinking like a stone all season, the Oilers pulled the pin on AHL coach Jeff Truitt yesterday, replacing him with former Oilers assistant Rob Daum.

The Falcons were 16-27-7 under Truitt.

Daum, 50, returns to the AHL for a second time, having coached the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild's affiliate) for two seasons (2005 to '07).

Prior to Houston, Daum coached 10 seasons with the University of Alberta, winning three national championships.

The news hit the Falcons players hard.

"I personally didn't think he deserved to be fired. He was a great coach. He didn't make the mistakes out there, we did," Falcons captain Tim Sestito told reporters in Springfield.

"We let him down, along with ourselves."

"It's still a shock," said Rob Schremp. "We'll keep working hard to try to salvage the season and put together some wins."

NO JAGR: The Oilers stamped out an Internet rumour yesterday that had Jaromir Jagr coming to Edmonton for the stretch drive.

David Staples, who covers the Oilers from home, wrote on his blog that Jagr is on his way to Edmonton.

Jagr is currently under contract in Russia for the remainder of this season and all of next season, and would have to clear waivers if he returns to the NHL.

Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe and assistant GM Kevin Prendergast both denied the rumour.


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