EDMONTON - Shawn Horcoff and Dustin Penner have had distinctly different seasons with the Edmonton Oilers through 61 games. But both are looking for a solid finish as they emerge from the NHL's Olympic break.
For Horcoff, struggling through the most difficult stretch of his career during the first year of a new contract paying him US$7 million this season, the next 21 games represent a chance to find his game.
Penner got off to the best start of his career and made himself a candidate for Canada's Olympic team before tailing off. The stretch drive provides an opportunity to finish as strongly as he started.
With the Oilers out of playoff contention, 25 points behind eighth-place Calgary in the Western Conference, it's not surprising Horcoff and Penner are looking ahead instead of behind.
"I feel refreshed and, hopefully, I'll be recharged to finish strong, the way I started," said Penner, who travelled to Hawaii, as did Horcoff, during the break.
Horcoff, 31, had three assists in a 7-3 loss to Anaheim in the Oilers final game before the break but has struggled mightily to generate any kind of offensive consistency. Horcoff has managed just 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in the 56 games he's played, many of them with a nagging shoulder injury that's hampered his play. He hasn't scored a goal in 19 games.
"I, personally, would like to get back to playing the level of hockey I know I can play," said Horcoff. "It's obviously been a frustrating and trying season. It's been disappointing on all fronts.
"You never want to go into a long off-season with a negative taste in your mouth. You'd like to finish the season strong and on a positive note."
Worse than modest offensive numbers for Horcoff, who prides himself on playing a two-way game and had a career-high 73 points in 2005-06, is his minus-29 rating. He's last in the entire NHL.
"There's times during the season when you're playing well and you just don't get the bounces to get rolling and get some confidence," Horcoff said. "I'm hoping I can find that here in the last 20 games.
"For me, it's never about the numbers because that's not really my game. I've always been the type of player who prides himself on the defensive side of the game."
Penner, 27, already has 24 goals and is just five short of the career high he scored with Anaheim in 2006-07. But 12 came in his first 20 games and he's laboured at times with increased ice time. He came into the break with just three goals in his last 15 games.
"I don't know how much it wore on me," Penner said of his increased ice time, including an added role as a penalty killer. "You play more minutes, you're on the ice more.
"If you look at yourself like a car, eventually you have to re-fill the tank or you're going to run out of gas. I think that happened to some extent."
Coach Pat Quinn, in his first season behind Edmonton's bench, has yet to see Horcoff at anything near his best.
"With Shawn, he's a guy you'd have high expectations for because of his history and his work ethic," Quinn said. "You'd like to see better things happen for him in terms of statistics on the ice.
"He has to also be a leader for this group. He has to show it on the ice. He does show it in practice. He's not a guy who backs off there. He's suffered with confidence.
"It's one of those things you have to overcome if you want to be remembered as a good athlete and an important member of the organization. There's all kinds of important things to work for as we go forth here. Part of that is being that leadership guy and finding your confidence."
Despite the struggles the Oilers have endured, Quinn could count on Penner to be his best forward most nights during the first half. He expects more of the same.
"With Dustin, the proceeding information given to me about him was not really flattering," Quinn admitted. "From day one, I didn't see any of that. I saw some really good qualities. I saw some hard work. I saw acceptance of responsibility. I also saw a guy who was showing some leadership.
"I'd like to see him continue to push himself to be a better player. He made some terrific steps and I want to see him continue to do that."