EDMONTON - Ales Hemsky must have oil running through his veins — no matter how long he sits, he never gets rusty.
After 11 games on the shelf to rest a sore shoulder, Hemsky returned Tuesday in Montreal to play 17:08, assist on the game-winning goal and withstand enough physical punishment to ease his mind for a while, not that he was worrying.
“You can’t think about it, if you think about it you can’t play the game,” said the Czech winger, who took several big hits from the Canadiens. “You focus on the game and whatever happens, happens.”
What happened was that the Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Smyth line was Edmonton’s best at both ends of the ice.
“We’ve played together a long time so it shouldn’t take long for us to get comfortable together,” said Horcoff. “He brings an offensive element and makes it hard for the other team to key on just one line.”.
Hemsky played all of four periods before pulling himself out of the second game of the season with weakness and pain in his shoulder. After four weeks of rest and rehab, he’s hoping he’s good for the rest of the season.
So are the Oilers. One of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL needs all the help it can get up front.
“He brings experience and offensive output, obviously, good leadership and he’s passionate about playing,” said head coach Tom Renney, who’s hoping Hemsky’s addition takes some of defensive focus off the kid line. “Ales has that reputation as an offensive player, so it should free others up to do more offensively.”
A LONG, LONG WAIT
It’s not just the kids who were counting down the hours until their first game in Montreal.
Twenty-seven-year-old Corey Potter lost a little sleep thinking about his first ever game here, too.
“This is one of those buildings you wait your whole life to play in,” said the biggest surprise of the Oilers season. “It’s a great atmosphere here.”
It is especially satisfying after Potter ground out five long years in the minors waiting for a shot in the NHL.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “You wait that many years to get this opportunity... waiting for that chance to prove yourself, The time has come and it’s a great experience right now.”
Not only is Potter just four points off the Oilers lead this season, he’s been a minus player just once in the last eight games.
“It’s been fun, I’ve been given some good opportunity and some good minutes in important situations. I couldn’t be any happier.”
From the department of bizarre statistics: Eric Belanger is one of the best faceoff guys in the league at 58.5% and Shawn Horcoff isn’t far behind at 52.5, but the Oilers as a team rank 25th in the NHL.
Needless to say, Anton Lander (37.6) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (29.6) are bringing down the average some.
“I’m really bad right now in the faceoffs, I know it,” said Lander, before a reporter could even get the question out. “I’m working on it; I’ve talked to the guys in the room, Horcoff and Belanger are really good faceoff guys, they’ve given me some good tips and advice. I have to be much better.”
Why are NHL draws so much harder than those on the international scene, where Lander was quite good?
“You can cheat more here in the faceoffs. That’s one thing I learned, I can cheat more. And guys are much stronger over here.”
Cam Barker returned after missing three games with a sore shoulder. He’s not a guy who jumps off the stats sheet, but he’s plus 3 on the season despite scoring just one point. He’s a big mobile guy who can pass the puck and he doesn’t get scored on much. It never hurts to have those guys around.
Colten Teubert sat out Tuesday in Montreal to make room for Barker. With Andy Sutton returning from suspension Friday in Detroit, the Oilers will be back to seven defencemen and Teubert will likely be back in Oklahoma City.
MAGNUS PRESS BOXED
Magnus Paajarvi, with one point in 13 games, was a healthy scratch Tuesday. He hasn’t had a great start and playing on a makeshift line with centre Sam Gagner on the wing and checking centre Eric Belanger in the middle hasn’t helped his cause.