SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers fourth line a hit

Colorado Avalanche's Kevin Porter and Edmonton Oilers' Zack Stortini collide. (REUTERS/Dan...

Colorado Avalanche's Kevin Porter and Edmonton Oilers' Zack Stortini collide. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:18 PM ET

If you look close enough, Ryan O’Byrne’s impression can probably still been seen on the end boards.

That’s where the Colorado Avalanche defenceman was plastered simultaneously by Edmonton Oilers bruisers Zack Stortini and J.F. Jacques on Thursday.

The hit set the tone for the contest and initiated an onslaught of thunderous checks from both sides.

“On that play, I tried to be a little careful, because in the previous game, I know I hit Storts (Stortini) harder than I did the other guy,” Jacques said. “As soon as I saw Storts cutting behind the net like that, I was hoping that he would move out of the way a little bit, too. But I got a good piece of (O’Byrne) and not Storts which was good.”

To his credit, O’Byrne took the full brunt of the check and managed to slowly make his way to the bench.

Later in the contest, Stortini unloaded on Kyle Quincey behind the net in race to the puck, sending him flying into the boards.

“That’s something that I try to bring to every game. It’s a situation where my game doesn’t change, I just want to play a hard-nose, gritty, physical game,” said Stortini. “That’s the way I’ve always played and will continue to play. I’m always looking for that big hit, that’s a big part of my game. I think that’s what makes me effective, forcing other teams to be aware of me when I’m on the ice.”

Having sat out the previous two games Stortini was looking to make an impact against the Avalanche. He did, teaming up with Jacques and defenceman Theo Peckham to provide the Oilers muscle in the contest.

Between the three of them, they officially combined with 10 hits on the night, although their impact was greater than anything that could be registered in a statistic.

“I think most teams in the league have a fourth line that has that job description,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “What I really liked about our game last night is that we only took six minutes in penalties despite playing a real physical game.

“They turned the tide. As much as I think our first five or six minutes were really good, I thought when that line went out there in a territorial perspective, they spent a lot of time in their end and little in ours.”

Heading into the season, the Oilers were looking to provide a physical element to a team loaded with small, skilled players.

Against the Avalanche, that physical side came together.

“Jacques was one of those players that needed a reminder what this game is all about and how he has to play in order to help our team,” Renney said. “Like the other two on that line, he responded well.

“That’s vital and you want to make sure you do it on a consistent basis. We need that look in this lineup. We can’t get pushed around in games.”

With the San Jose Sharks coming to town, the Oilers are going to need a similar effort from their bruisers on Saturday.

The Sharks are a club that is capable of not just beating a team, but beating a team up.

Jacques and Stortini are two players the Oilers look to when the need arises to stand up for themselves.

“I don’t think it was the most physical game I’ve played, I think I’ve gotten more hits in games before,” Jacques said. “But I think I had bigger hits in that game. It felt good. As soon as I got out there, I got a good hit on my first shift and then Storts got a good hit on the second shift. As soon as that happened, it lifted the team and it lifted us to be on our toes and to get on them. It’s a big plus for us when you can contribute like that, it helps us a lot.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiest


Photos