SUN Hockey Pool

Renney sends message sitting Belanger

Oilers forward Teemu Hartikainen (second left) celebrates a goal against the Ducks with teammates...

Oilers forward Teemu Hartikainen (second left) celebrates a goal against the Ducks with teammates behind goaltender Jonas Hiller at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., April 1, 2012. (ALEX GALLARDO/Reuters)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:59 PM ET

ANAHEIM - Head coach Tom Renney says Eric Belanger might not be the last Oilers veteran to sit in the press box as the disappointing season winds down.

The slumping centre returned to the lineup Sunday in Anaheim after being made a healthy scratch Friday night for the first time all year.

“He’s played hard, he’s played well, but there are some things in his game that I think he can improve upon,” said Renney. “He’s a competitive guy; he wants badly to make amends for that and I know he will.”

The timing is curious in that Belanger has struggled all year and could have used the wake-up call back in January. Waiting until now to light a fire under him, with four games left in a 29th place season, is too late to get him turned around.

But it’s not too late to get everyone’s attention, young and old.

“The timing was to make sure he understood where I was coming from and what I needed from him,” said Renney. “But more importantly, quite honestly, is the timing for everybody else to recognize that we don’t discriminate.

“Players are going to have to be held accountable moving forward. It’s one of those situations where he was the guy for the moment and even though we’ve only got three games left, I’m sure there will be a couple others.”

BOUNCING BACK

On a team where players are carrying minus totals of -21, -16 and -14 and almost everybody on the team in minus figures, Sam Gagner’s team-leading plus 7 makes him look like Bob Gainey by comparison.

After a dreadful end to last season (cutting his wrist tendons) and an equally tough start to this year (a high ankle sprain in training camp), he’s fought back like a champ, posting a career high 17 goals.

“It was a tough summer for me last summer with the hand and a couple other injuries I was working through,” he said. “I tried to train as much as I could, then I get back to camp and have the (ankle) injury. It’s tough to get going from there, but I’m feeling a lot better now. My game has made a lot of strides.”

Leading his team in plus-minus is a big stride for somebody who was never known for his defensive prowess. The faceoff numbers (48.5%, just a whisper behind Shawn Horcoff at 49.1) are also up.

“I feel better in the D-zone, I feel better in faceoffs,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with experience and a lot of it has to do with the team. We’re growing as a group and that makes it easier on individuals to have success when the team is playing the right way.”

NECK OF TIME

Ladislav Smid, one of only two Oilers who hadn’t missed a game all year, might be done for the season with his recent neck injury. With only three games left, and other players to look at, there’s not much point in bringing him back.

He’s third in the NHL in blocked shots (184) and first on the Oilers in hits (186), so there are some hard miles on that body.

“Smid needs time to rest up and get himself together because he’s a train wreck,” said Renney. “But you know his character, he’s going to want to play.”

BEATING THE CURSE

Strange, considering he spent all those years with the Oilers, but Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano has never missed an NHL game in his career. He’s played 407 straight, fourth on the NHL’s active list, since he made his debut in 2007.

The number on his back doesn’t seem to make any difference, he went from unlucky 13 in Edmonton to lucky 7 in Anaheim.

FORTUNATE ONE

Colten Teubert is once again taking advantage of Edmonton’s bad luck. It’s odd that on a team with eight defenceman a minor-league call-up would manage to get 21 games in, but one man’s break is another man’s break.

“Obviously it’s tough circumstances to come in here with those two guys getting hurt like that,” said Teubert, filling one of the holes left by Smid, Petry and Theo Peckham. “But it’s a good opportunity for me. I’m trying to get my feet wet still and hopefully play the rest of the season.”

NOT IN THE PLANS

Linus Omark is riding the Barker Express. He was a healthy scratch for the third game in a row and fifth time in the last nine games. Renney intimated that the 25-year-old might not draw in again this year.

“Whether or not he gets in or not I’m not completely sure, to be honest with you,” said Renney, who makes it sound like Omark won’t be back next year. “I certainly don’t want to get ahead of myself with respect to his future with our team, but he’s been a good soldier since he’s been here, always ready to go.”

NUMBERS GAME

The Ducks are 23-12-5 for 51 points since Jan. 1 and are 14-5-1 in their last 20 at the Honda Centre ... The Ducks are 10-1-0 in their last 11 against Edmonton, dating back to March 31, 2009. During that span Jonas Hiller posted a 1.84 GAA and a .939 save percentage... Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau owns the best winning percentage in the league. He’s 227-109-47 in 383 career games with both Anaheim and Washington for a .654 win percentage.

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robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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