SUN Hockey Pool

Shot-shy Oilers outgunned

Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (L) stops Detroit Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader during the...

Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (L) stops Detroit Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Edmonton December 19, 2011. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:11 PM ET

In a firing squad, it's usually the guys with the guns who have a better game than the guys with the cigarettes and blindfolds.

You don't need a coaching certificate in executions to know it's better to be a shooter than a target.

That's also the case in hockey. Sure, teams can still win when their goalie gets peppered like a steak, but the more rubber bullets your team faces in the NHL, the more likely it is that one or more of the them will be fatal.

Ask the Oilers. They've been getting the shots kicked out of them lately, a whopping 141-89 over their last four games (including 42-20 in Phoenix and 37-25 in San Jose, and have the holes in the win column to show for it).

"That's a lot," sighed defenceman Tom Gilbert, shaking his head at the totals. "This game is all about puck possession. It's tough to get the puck back when you don't have it. If you don't have it, it means you're not doing the right things with it and you're not getting the forecheck established. When all that happens it just tires guys out."

While shots against aren't always indicative of good scoring chances, they are indicative of zone time. And, as any coach will tell you, the more time you spend in your own end, the more things can go wrong. Mistakes, bad goals, deflections, penalties, flukes, rebounds, and highlight reel goals, to name a few.

The Oilers have fallen victim to all of those in the last stretch.

"We're in our zone too long, not doing a good job of coverage and we're not moving the puck out quick enough," said Shawn Horcoff. "A lot of times we need to just get it out of there, just get it out of the zone."

To compound matters, when Edmonton does break the other team's cycle and transports the puck in the other team's end, they'd much rather play with it than send it where the goals are.

During one power play against the Wings on Monday (56 seconds of which was 5-on-3) they passed 17 times and had one shot on net.

"We get in the zone plenty of times and hem teams in, but we don't get pucks to the net as much," said Gilbert. "It needs to be a product of thinking about it when you're out there. It's natural, you want to make a great play, but it's not how you score goals these days."

Ask the Wings. They shoot more than Dirty Harry in a room full of punks, and it works. All three Detroit goals on Monday wouldn't even be classified as scoring chances in the post-game video sessions — just harmless looking shots into traffic in front of the crease — but they wound up deflected into the net.

"Detroit just throws pucks at the net from everywhere," said Horcoff. "If the play is there to be made they'll make it, if not, they'll just get it on net. When you do that, you force the other team to have to make a couple of nice plays to get it out.

"You have to find a way to make shooting your first thought."

Same with going to the front of the net, another area where the Oilers can take a lesson from the Wings.

"We still working on the willingness to go there," said head coach Tom Renney. "I don't think it's lack of desire or jam, it's just understanding that it has to be the end point, not just for the puck, but we have to have people there."

Of course, if nobody's shooting, what's the point in planting yourself in the tough areas and taking all that abuse?

"If they're not directing pucks at the net, you kind of figure it's a bit of a futile effort," said Renney. "They're fine with taking all the crap, as long as the puck is there with them."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

@SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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