SUN Hockey Pool

Horcoff pulled off top line

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Breaking up is hard to do, but staying together was getting hard to watch.

So head coach Pat Quinn is going with the lesser of two evils and splitting up Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

The two have been linemates for years, going back to the days when Ryan Smyth was their left-winger, and are never far from one-two in scoring among Oilers forwards. But they've been drier than sand-flavoured pretzels this year.

It hasn't been that noticeable because everyone else is scoring, but Hemsky and Horcoff sit eighth and 15th in team scoring with five and two points respectively -- not great given their big ice time and power-play roles.

"We're still trying to figure out who we are and who can play with who and how we can best be a team," said Quinn. "And that might mean splitting up what many people think are our two best players."

The coach reserves the right to change his mind, but yesterday he had Hemsky skating with Sam Gagner and Dustin Penner while Horcoff lined up with Mike Comrie and Patrick O'Sullivan.

In both cases he's hoping two hot linemates can warm up a cold third wheel.

"It's going to be good because both of those guys can move the puck really well," said Horcoff, who's beneath Jason Strudwick, Ryan Stone and Zack Stortini in the points chase.

"Hopefully we can find some chemistry because they're playing well. Sully is a good shooter and MC can do a little bit of both -- he's got good hands around the net.

"It's not something that surprises either of us. The scoring has died down a little bit of late so we're trying to change things up to find a couple of lines with good chemistry."

For Gagner, it's the latest step in his steady climb up the depth chart. He began the year on the fourth line and is quickly gaining Quinn's confidence. Lining up with Edmonton's best player on his right side and its hottest player on his left opens the door to a great opportunity.

"The season is still young and if I take my guard off it could end up worse again," he said. "I still don't want to stray away from the game I've been playing, focus on what I've been doing and not read too much into what lines are which.

"The reason that we're in the shape we're in is that we have four lines going. Everybody is stepping up and contributing to our success."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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