Square pegs, round hole

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

The preseason is the time of year when coaches look to find out what they have.

Pat Quinn is finding out more about what he doesn't have.

"I don't see a lot of checkers here," he said yesterday morning prior to the game against the Calgary Flames last night.

"I don't see a lot of shutdown centres," he added after the 5-3 loss to the southern rivals.

So what's a coach to do?

Quinn basically admitted after the loss that he's now almost certain to ditch the traditional top two scoring lines with a checking line and an energy line as the third and fourth lines.

Instead he admitted he's probably going to have to create three "offensive" lines that he can hopefully teach to play both ways and make a combined checking/energy fourth line.

"I think I'd like to have that kind of make up," he said, adding that the spare parts would likely be rotated in and out of the fourth line.

There's also another problem here. There's all those guys the Oilers have under contract. Then there's the guys Quinn is leaning to wanting to have as part of the way he's likely going to have to go here. A lot of them aren't the same guys.

"Coaching certainly hopes to be heard, but management will make the final decision" said the 66-year-old who has plenty of experience not only as a coach but as a general manager.

There's almost certainly going to have to be some dealing done between now and Oct. 1.

If you've been trying to read between the lines how Quinn is going to get out of this pre-season mess -- and last night it looked like a mess -- there were two teams on the ice with lineups vaguely representative of the teams the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers will take into the regular season and it's a lot more murky than it looked like at the start of training camp.

Way too much is usually read into preseason games, but the Oilers looked a lot better in their first three winning against minor leaguers than they did against the Flames in losing their third straight with the prime-time players in most of the spots.

When the Oilers won the first preseason game in Calgary, the Flames had $46 million of salaries sitting in the press box. This night, all those guys -- Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, Mikka Kiprusoff, etc. -- were in the line-up.

And Edmonton's alleged stars -- Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and Nikolai Khabibulin were woeful.

The only real upside for the home side was that two players used to being in the press box, Dustin Penner and J.F. Jacques, played pretty much as well as they've ever played in an Oilers uniform.

Quinn didn't hang Horcoff and Hemsky out to dry but included them in saying "we still don't win those loose pucks."

Khabibulin gave up four goals, all but one of them just ghastly, in facing 24 shots in the first period. He didn't return to play the third or even watch from the bench because of dehydration.

"As a unit, we're not there yet," said the coach of his not-yet-ready-for-prime-time players who open the season here against the Flames a week Saturday.

"We need to build trust. We don't have any trust yet."

That said, the way Penner and Jacques played last night, he can at least hope he may have a couple of big guys to go with all those jockeys he'd be putting on those three "scoring" lines.

Jacques had a very involved game in which he came to compete.

"He finished his checks and went to the net," said Quinn.

But Penner was the most refreshing player to watch.

Having spent the first two years in the doghouse here, Penner showed up in shape this year and played last night like he's finally figured out what he has to do if he's going to make the most of a new beginning with the new coach.

He positioned himself in front of the net like he's been watching old Ryan Smyth videos and even used his body to handle Jay Bouwmeester and score a goal on the doorstep.

"Dustin has had a good camp to this point. It's the step he needs to make as a player," said Quinn.

If Quinn ends up with a productive Penner and Jacques suddenly turns into a pro, too, then maybe everything isn't as bad as it looked in pretty much every other direction last night.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos