Oil's special problems

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

The math is simple. No special teams, no playoffs.

There are many important ingredients in a successful playoff drive, but if a team on the bubble is struggling on the power play and penalty kill, it won't have to struggle long -- the season will be over in the first week of April.

Now, here's some more math that might be a little harder to digest: With the regular season finish line in sight, the Oilers sit 23rd in the league on the power play (28th at home) and 28th in the league on the penalty kill.

Those are two gaping wounds that threaten to bleed Edmonton right out of the Western Conference race, which is why the team spent the last two days trying desperately to stitch things up.

"We need to work on them because they're not very good for us," said Shawn Horcoff, who plays on both units.

"In the first half of the season our power play was good, 13th or 14th, and over the last 20 games it's been tough.

"And our PK, it's no secret we have to work on that. It was good there for a couple of months, but the last couple of weeks it hasn't been where it needs to be."

Having allowed 10 goals in 23 chances over the last seven games, it's not on the same planet as where it needs to be.

"We're back in the same situation where there's a dark cloud that flies over the team when we take a penalty now," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"We were pretty good there for a couple of months, after a terrible start. But we have to play ourselves out of some bad things that have happened the last little while."

Their confidence has taken a beating recently, but the penalty killers realize this is no time to play spooked.

"You can't be afraid of getting scored on because that's when you usually do get scored on, when you're playing nervous and scared," said Fernando Pisani.

"We have the right guys in here who can do that job; we just have to execute."

The power play, meanwhile, doesn't have to score a lot, just score at key times. With two goals in the last 11 games (37 chances), it isn't doing that.

"We're just trying to find that rhythm, that cohesiveness," said Sheldon Souray. "We're trying to be more reliable. We've had some opportunities on the power play to win games and pull ourselves into games and it hasn't been as sharp as it needs to be."

The Oilers are plagued by the same usual suspects that haunt most ineffective power plays -- too fancy, too many passes, not enough shots, not enough going hard to the net.

"It's making simple plays, moving the puck quickly, little things that sometimes don't look the prettiest," said Souray.

"Even with Hemmer (Ales Hemsky), he's one of the top five playmakers in the league when he's making plays, it's tough to ask him just to keep passing it back to the point for a shot. But sometimes you take one step back to take two forward."

When you consider that six of Edmonton's last seven losses have been by one goal, the importance of special teams is pretty obvious.

"If you have good penalty killing and a good power play you're going to win those games more often than not," said Sam Gagner.

"It's something we've talked about in detail because of how important it is.

"Hopefully we can shore it up and get better at it and it'll translate into wins down the stretch."

Can such fundamental issues be fixed this late in the season? If they're not working by now, is it even possible to turn them around with 14 games left?

"It should be if you're a professional," said Horcoff.

"You should be a good enough player and a smart enough player to be able to make adjustments, absolutely."


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