SUN Hockey Pool

Penner likely to sit

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

MONTREAL -- It's good to have choices -- unless you're one of the guys not chosen.

And you can tell by the look on Dustin Penner's face that the thought of playing musical chairs for a spot on the Oilers' bench isn't very appealing.

Just ask Robert Nilsson. The hot and cold winger spent the last four games in the press box, walking around in circles while the music played, waiting for a chance to squeeze his backside back into the lineup.

"With the deals we made at the deadline we've got added depth that we haven't had in the past," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who, with the addition of Ales Kotalik and Patrick O'Sullivan, has 15 forwards from which to draw his starting 12.

"It's a real benefit right now to have that extra depth and be able to put guys in."

It means he can shorten a few leashes out there if he doesn't think a player is bringing enough to the rink.

"We're at a critical time, and we need guys to perform," he said. "We can't have the patience to wait for guys to round their game into shape."

If the lines in practice yesterday are anything like the lines MacTavish will ice here tonight, Nilsson is in and Penner, who doesn't have a point in nine games and played one shift in the third period in Toronto, is out.

The big winger skated on the fifth line with J.F. Jacques and Steve MacIntyre (who sat out last game) while Nilsson skated with Sam Gagner and Marc Pouliot.

MacTavish, who's already had the Penner situation blow up a couple of times this season, isn't interested in lighting another fuse, so he wasn't committing to his roster or commenting on Penner.

But, at the very least, he's thinking about moving him upstairs.

"I haven't totally made up my mind; we'll just sit and see what we do," he said. "I don't want to get into it too much with Dustin."

Neither does Dustin.

Penner wasn't saying much when asked about skating with the fifth line.

"I noticed where I was," he said. "Too bad; it would have been nice to play. It's out of my control."

You don't need Dr. Phil to tell you the coach isn't happy with Penner and Penner isn't happy with the coach.

"It's tough playing when you know that one mistake is going to get you out of the lineup," said the 26-year-old winger.

"Before that, I played pretty well. We had a lot of good chances as a line. I guess one bad game and you're out."

The 'one bad game' part is up for debate, but there's no question MacTavish can afford to be less tolerant.

Jacques had a decent game in Nashville to start the trip, but didn't bring a whole lot of intensity or physical presence against a virtually defenceless Ottawa team, so he was out and Liam Reddox was in against Toronto.

"It's just a case of having some options right now," said MacTavish. "We need everybody going. The onus is on the players to play well and fill a role."

Nilsson, who has a very good 'A' game when he brings it, knows that a couple of 'C' efforts could cost him his seat in the musical chairs game.

"We have 15 forwards," he said.

"The positive thing is I'm going to play. I have to do my job, I guess, play hard. You need to be ready as soon as you come back, you can't come back and be out of shape."

Four games upstairs can make a guy really miss the action.

"You think that after the first game, actually," said Nilsson.

"It's frustrating, but you just need to have a good attitude and not be mad in front of the guys, they're still playing and they need to be on their game."

Sitting in the press box usually lights a fire in a player, but MacTavish is hoping it doesn't take that to get somebody fired up for the stretch drive.

"If you need that to burn a fire that's a pretty severe indictment," he said.

"We all know the situation. You're playing for the guys sitting next to you in the room. It's the old cliche ... but it's very true."


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