The Edmonton Oilers are anxious to stop an alarming trend that sees them bent over as the NHL’s 29th worst face-off team.
The Oil have had four days to face the facts – their work on the face-off dot plain sucks – just over 40% success on the draw. It wouldn’t matter whether you had Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur in goal, if you don’t have possession of the puck – off the draw or otherwise – eventually you’ll find it in the back of your net!
Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Curtis Fraser, Edmonton’s primary draw men, went back to school, so to speak, since the club dropped a pair of road losses in Minnesota and Calgary to see their unblemished 2-0 start evened up. Head coach Tom Renney has had the foursome on “draw detail” on the ice and in the video room, in an effort to improve the Oilers’ pitiful record in the circle.
And just in time to, as the Minnesota Wild, a team that looks vanilla in so many ways but excels in capturing face-offs (tops in the league at 59%) will “face off” against the Oil tomorrow, Thursday evening, down at The Drug Store.
And make no mistake, Renney is expecting a huge improvement from his centres in its rematch against the likes of Minnesota’s Matt Cullen, Captain Mikko Koivu and former Oiler, Kyle Brodziak. The head coach has also spent the last few practice days mixing up his lines, looking for some more chemistry and scoring prowess from his top line.
According to emontonoilers.com, as of Thursday’s practice, tonight”s lines will most likely look as follows:
Penner – Gagner – Hemsky
Paajarvi – Horcoff – Eberle
Hall – Cogliano – Brule
Jones – Fraser – Stortini
The move could see first overall NHL draft selection, Taylor Hall, bumped down to the third line alongside Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule, a move that could help the 18-year-old rookie to fly under the opposition’s top D pairings and get his first NHL goal. Both he and Paajarvi have also absorbed some big-league hits in their team’s first four games.
Number-one netminder Nikolai Khabibulin is expected to get the nod Thursday, after posting a brilliant .925 SV% in his first four starts of the regular season.
In the meantime Oiler fans, chins up…sticks down.
About the Author
Written by Scott Pattison
Scott is an award-winning sports writer whose career spans more than 20 years. He's proudly covered the Oilers since moving to the Alberta capital in 2000.