SUN Hockey Pool

On the plus side ...

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

The knock on Dustin Penner last season was that he was a plus-sized forward.

This year, it's the size of his plus that's turning heads.

On one of the worst clubs in the NHL -- a 15th place doormat on a seven-game losing streak with eight players whose plus-minus ranks 700th or worse in the league -- Penner has one of the best totals in the NHL.

He's played on a line with Sam Gagner, who's 703rd at minus 7, and with Robert Nilsson who's 757th at minus 11, with Patrick O'Sullivan, who's 781st at minus 18, and he's played on a line with Shawn Horcoff, whose whopping minus 21 is second worst in the NHL at 783.

And through it all, Penner is tied for 25th in the NHL at plus 11.

"It's easy to stay on the plus side of things when you play in the other team's zone most of the time," said Penner, who's only been a minus player in eight of 39 games this season. "Over the year we've been able to spend more time in the offensive zone than the defensive zone."

In the last four games of Edmonton's losing streak, in which they gave up 18 goals and scored five, he was even in every game. In the entire seven-game stretch, where they've been outscored 31-19, he's only minus two.

"I don't really set goals for myself (in plus-minus), all I say is I want to be a plus player. It's just one of those things, I don't like to get scored on and if I can help it I will, whether it's having the puck down low in their end and making sure I don't make a high-risk play that could go the other way on an odd-man break.

"You just have to make simpler plays more often, especially when you're in the midst of a losing streak. And in order to have a good plus-minus you have to score five-on-five and the lines I've been on have been able to do that."

Even last year, the lowest of his NHL career, he led all Oilers forwards in plus-minus with a plus seven.

"He's been conscientious, he can play the defensive side of the game, he understands it, and he's responsible," said head coach Pat Quinn. "He's just been our best player."

- Days after being named to Team Russia, Denis Grebeshkov couldn't get named to Team Edmonton for Monday's game against the Flames. Pointless and minus four in six games since returning from a knee injury, he was a healthy scratch.

"Since he's come back in, he was out a long time, maybe we pushed him too quick to get back in and he was pushing himself.

"We could have selected just about anybody to take a rest that night. But we thought he might benefit most from it. He's a good player and we think he can play better. Sometimes a day away helps. He won't be out long, we think he's a talented guy," said Quinn.

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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