January 9, 2012
Oilers vets need to step up
By Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency
It’s usually the other way around — a couple of key veterans are wounded in battle and younger players are called on to elevate their games enough to offset the injuries.
This year, on a Edmonton Oilers club that’s been upside down from the start, a couple of kids are hurt and now its up to the veterans to stand and deliver in their absence.
With Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins felled by knee and shoulder injuries, leaving a pair of bomb-sized craters in Edmonton’s offence, the responsibility shifts to some of the older warhorses.
To Shawn Horcoff, who, while wrestling shoulder troubles of his own, has two points in his last 14 games. To Ales Hemsky, whose temperature has fluctuated between cold and tepid this season. To Eric Belanger, who is to productivity what chickens are to flight.
Basically the same guys who should have been picking up the slack a month or two ago.
Asked if he needs more from his veterans, head coach Tom Renney said yes.
“I think so,” he said. “But it’s on everybody, it’s on the coaching staff. We all have some responsibility here; nobody should shun it. They should embrace it, quite honestly, and look at this as an opportunity to deal with adversity and develop, or expose, character. But we’ve got to make sure that we step up, it’s that simple.”
Ales Hemsky doesn’t have to be told that 14 points in 28 games is not good enough.
“It’s tough to lose Nuge and Ebs, they’re our best players, but we just have to battle through it,” he said. “A lot of guys have to step up, like myself and the older guys, even the guys who are coming up.”
The Oilers airlifted Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan O’Marra and Gilbert Brule in from Oklahoma City, but it’s more realistic, and fair, to ask that the push to come from multi-million dollar veterans playing 18 to 20 minutes a night than from some nervous call ups.
“It’s an opportunity for me,” admitted Hemsky, rather sheepish at the thought of somebody with his age, experience and opportunity actually needing one.
“Whether (Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins) are playing or not, I have to produce more and help the team win games. That’s my job; that’s why I’m here.”
Ryan Jones, who has been holding up his end of the bargain since Day One, admits there is plenty of slack to be picked up in the wake of the injuries up front, but doesn’t think any two players can do it by themselves. Not when you’re talking about elite-level talent like Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins.
“This is an opportunity for certain people in our lineup to show something they haven’t been able to in the past,” he said. “But it falls on everybody, to be honest. It’s not like you can say, so and so went down so Shawn Horcoff has to score more goals. Or so and so went down so now Ryan Smyth has to do this. That’s not exactly the way it is.”
Scoring more, according to Horcoff, needn’t be the first priority, anyway.
“First off, our offence hasn’t really won us many games this year,” he said. “One thing we need to focus on more than anything at this point is defence.
“Even when we were fully healthy we haven’t been able to score five on five. Our biggest thing is to be stingier.
“Our power play and penalty kill have been outstanding, so if we can really limit the amount of goals being scored against us five on five that should really help us.”
It’s incredible that a team with the fourth best power play and ninth best penalty kill sits 26th in the league, but they are.
“To have the record we have is amazing given those stats,” said Horcoff. “I’ve never seen that before on any team. We need to buckle up defensively, stop giving up as many goals as before and we’ll be able to turn this around.”