SUN Hockey Pool

Aleses stale in blunderland

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

TORONTO -- Shawn Horcoff is tired, Ales Hemsky is tired of not scoring and Ales Kotalik, with five lonely goals since Christmas, must be wondering if his hands have fallen asleep for good.

Not exactly the makings of a good first line for the Edmonton Oilers, and they weren't good at all during Thursday's crushing defeat in Ottawa, where Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza lit them up for three goals in a hopelessly easy 4-2 upset.

The battle of the top units deteriorated into a such a lopsided slaughter that Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish had no choice but to disband his newly-minted trio in the third period to prevent any further damage.

They'll likely stay apart this evening when the slumping Oilers attempt to fish their reputations out of the toilet in front of a national television audience in Toronto.

"I think so, I think Horc needs a little bit of a break," said MacTavish, who's starting to see some fatigue in a player who's been averaging almost 22 minutes a night. "He's a hard-working guy who's always training and he plays the toughest minutes that any one of our forwards play. He needs a break more than anybody right now."

So Horcoff had yesterday off and will likely start on the second line tonight, while Sam Gagner moves into his spot between the snakebitten Aleses.

Horcoff doesn't see it as a demotion as much as an opportunity to recharge and return to his form of two weeks ago, when he had eight points in six games.

"I wasn't happy with my game (Thursday), it wasn't nearly where it needed to be," he said. "(MacTavish) is going to make changes. I'm not worried about that. I know I'm going to get opportunities."

Horcoff and Hemsky had it going not that long ago, but they're drier than a sawdust sandwich right now.

Hemsky's blistering start upon returning from a concussion (six goals in five games) has slowed to a trickle (four goals in his last 15 games). Horcoff has one assist in five games. And Kotalik's problems in Buffalo have now become the Oilers' problem.

"The last three or four games have been a struggle for me. I'm trying to find my legs," said Horcoff. "It's a tough game to play when you're not feeling good, especially when you're out there in a lot of situations."

MacTavish is hoping a day away from the rink will add some spring to Horcoff's stride. For Hemsky, it was just the opposite.

So unnerved and out of sorts is No. 83 that he was actually spotted participating in an optional practice yesterday, which is kind of like seeing Elvis at a health food store. Like Horcoff, something isn't quite right, but in Hemsky's case, it's more of a mental shot block.

"My game right now ... I don't challenge the defencemen like before," Hemsky said. "You have to make the plays, you have to make something happen. I have to challenge guys one-on-one. Don't be scared, just play my game."


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