EDMONTON - Edmonton Oilers head coach Tom Renney had a simple explanation as to why Eric Belanger is manning the point on the power play.
“He’s a left-handed shot on our 1-3-1 (system),” said Renney. “That’s pretty much it. His experience under the circumstances is good, but most importantly of all, is that he has a good shot when he gets a hold of it and he’s the left-hand shot that we need.”
Belanger has been the subject of debate and is perhaps being used as a scapegoat for the Oilers’. struggles with the man advantage in a 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames Saturday.
There are questions as to why the veteran, who has yet to score a goal this season, is playing a position he was otherwise unfamiliar with prior to joining the Oilers?
Belanger does have power-play experience, just not on the point.
“I’ve played on the power play throughout my whole career,” Belanger said. “Being at the point is a little different. I love playing there, you see the ice and there are so many good players on the team, that it’s fun to be a part of.
“You have to worry a little bit more on the defensive side of the game, but in another sense, you’re seeing the ice in front of you. It’s one of those things where you have to be aggressive on the power play as well, everyone has to be on the same page and we have to outnumber our opponents to get pucks back in the corner. I think that’s where my speed and my vision can help.”
The power play has been one of the Oilers strengths this season.
Despite failing to score on all six of their opportunities Saturday, the Oilers are still converting 20.4% of the time with the man advantage, which is the fifth highest rate in the NHL.
Belanger has four power-play points on the year.
“It’s a privilege to get out on the power play,” Belanger said. “We had a tough game last game, but we have to keep working on it and stay positive. We’re doing well this year and we have to keep doing the things we do when we have success.”
Signed as a free agent this summer, Belanger did not expect to go beyond the opening quarter of the season without a goal.
He scored 13 with the Phoenix Coyotes last year and has a career-high 17 for a season, which he collected with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2005-2006 campaign.
“You try not to think about it, for sure it affects me a little bit,” Belanger said. “You try not to think about it, but it’s human nature and I’m going through a tough time with that part of the game right now. I just have to stay positive and hope it’ll end soon, and after that, hopefully it’ll start going in for me.”
Last season, Belanger, 33, also went through a stretch of 27 games without scoring a goal for the Coyotes.
He eventually snapped that skid and went on to score the majority of his goals following his slump.
“It seems like now it’s worse this year,” he said. “You get to a new team and you’re 27 games into the year without scoring, so you feel like you’re not doing anything. But there are so many other things that you have to focus on doing well and help the team win. When the team has success, that’s what I have to be happy with.”
Belanger wasn’t acquired by the Oilers for his scoring prowess. The native of Sherbrooke, Que., was courted for his effectiveness in the face-off circle and his reliability defensively.
Whatever he chips in offensively this season is a bonus.
“It’s one of those things where you have to rely on other things, try not to think about it and make sure you do the other things well,” he said. “I have a three-year contract, so I don’t have to worry about my stats as much as other years when you only have a one-year deal. I know it’ll eventually go in, I just have to keep a smile on my face, stay positive and I know things will turn around.”