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Northwest: MacTavish wants Penner a lean, mean machine

by Roger Phillips /
After two consecutive benchings, left wing Dustin Penner was back in the Oilers’ lineup Tuesday night at Columbus, and the time for reflection worked. Penner scored a goal and the Oilers routed the Blue Jackets, 7-2.

This came after Penner was blasted in the Edmonton media by coach Craig MacTavish. Based on the results, perhaps MacTavish should have spoken up sooner.

Penner just might be the most disappointing player in the NHL thus far this season. Maybe the Anaheim Ducks knew something when they chose not to match the Oilers' rich offer sheet to the restricted free agent during the summer of 2007.

MacTavish sent a message to the 26-year-old Penner in the past week, sitting him after he produced only 3 goals and 1 assist in his first 16 games.

MacTavish went on a rant, stating that Penner lacks the needed desire and drive.

"I can't watch it for -- certainly not another 2 1/2 years," MacTavish told the Edmonton Sun. "The frustrating thing for me is that he's got the game and he just can't find it. You have to put the work in. He's got the game. He's got a great set of tools, he just lacks the horsepower."

Penner admitted to the Sun that he must do better.

"It's time for me to bring that part of my game up, that competitiveness and that consistency," Penner said. "That's part of my game that's always been hard for me to obtain. I have to go out there and try to take the right steps and the process to do so."

Certainly, the Oilers needed to step up the offense heading into the game in Columbus. They've already been shut out three times this season.

And going forward, Penner will have to be part of the solution, not the problem. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he's got the size to be a physical force on the ice. With the Ducks, he had 29 goals two seasons ago, and he had 47 points last year with the Oilers.
Tuesday night looked like a step in the right direction.

Something in the water? -- For some reason, Edmonton this season has been a place where previously productive players dry up. Penner has company.

Right wing Erik Cole, a 30-year-old newcomer from Carolina, produced an assist in the win at Columbus. That gave him 6 points in 19 games this season.

Three years ago, Cole scored a career-high 30 goals for the Hurricanes. Two years ago, he produced a career-high 61 points.

Spark for the Flames? -- Calgary had four consecutive days off following a 6-1 pasting last week at the hands of the Sharks. The Flames won only two of their previous seven games before the hiatus. Before the break, they had played eight games in 14 days.

So maybe they needed a rest. Maybe they needed to refocus on the defensive style that led to a six-game winning streak that preceded the seven-game skid. Maybe eight games in 14 days limited practice time to the extent that the Flames developed bad habits.

"When we had the (six-game winning streak), it was all about our defense, not anything else but defense," coach Mike Keenan told the Calgary Sun. "It's about the consistency, the work ethic and the due diligence you need to stay on top of that part of your game.

"When you don't have the practice time or as much practice time as you'd like, you might get off that a bit."

Whatever the cause of the skid, Keenan clearly had seen enough. The Flames were supposed to have a holiday in the Bay Area after the Sharks game. Keenan canceled it. Instead, the Flames got back on the ice.

"We needed these practices," center Craig Conroy told the Sun. "We changed some things defensively.”

Three times in the last five games before their break, the Flames gave up six goals. Tuesday night, they opened a home-and-home series against the Avalanche at the Saddledome.

The Flames won the game by a 4-1 margin, outshooting Colorado, 51-23.

Canucks redux -- Vancouver is doing what it’s been known for doing in recent years. The Canucks are not scoring enough goals and they are relying too heavily on goalie Roberto Luongo.

Wednesday night marked former Canuck Markus Naslund’s first game against his old team as Vancouver visited the Rangers. The Canucks sorely miss the scoring Naslund once provided for them.

Vancouver entered the Rangers game with 13 goals in the previous six games. Eight of those goals came in two games, and the other five were spread out over four games. Remarkably, thanks to Luongo, the Canucks picked up at least a point in the standings in each of the six games. Luongo had not allowed a second-period goal in six-straight games heading into Wednesday.

The Canucks aren’t scoring much for a few reasons.   

Some of the young players they had hoped would provide answers have been disappointing. Forward Mason Raymond was pointless in five-straight games before Wednesday. Forward Steve Bernier had no goals and 1 assist in the previous seven games. Making matters worse, offensively skilled defenseman Kevin Bieksa is sidelined with a foot injury.

So it just might be that Luongo will have to keep stealing points for the Canucks to stay in contention in the Northwest Division.
How important is Luongo? He’s the Canucks’ captain, though NHL rules do not allow him to wear a "C" on his jersey – a rule that dates nearly 60 years ago to when Canadiens goalie Bill Durnan abused the privilege by rushing up the ice frequently to argue with the officials, stealing rest for his teammates.

Canucks fans think Luongo should be able to wear the "C." More than 2,000 of them signed a petition that was delivered Tuesday to the NHL offices by a Vancouver Sun reporter.

Nothing doing, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.

"Generally, when there's not a strong sentiment one way or another, why change the rule?" Daly told the Sun. "There are actually logistical issues around it. It primarily has to do with ... the position of the goaltender on the ice and his ability to engage the referee in conversations ... (and) the distractions and delays it could cause in the game."

Luongo – who visited the NHL offices Tuesday – told the Sun he wasn’t too upset.

"It's not important," he said. "As long as I'm recognized by my team and my teammates, that's all that matters to me."

Wildly stingy -- The best defensive team in the NHL skated into Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, held Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Penguins to one goal, and skated away with a 2-1 shootout victory.

Though Detroit and San Jose get all the attention in the Western Conference, don’t overlook Minnesota. The Wild lost only four times in regulation in its first 16 games. And they’re allowing fewer than two goals a game.

One thing that can be said about the Wild: Their wins aren’t pretty. After a 3-2 shootout win against Columbus over the weekend, coach Jacques Lemaire sounded disgusted, and so did his players.

“We didn't make any plays. We weren't sharp. We were exactly like our pregame skate," Lemaire told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "The legs were there. No brain."

Center Eric Belanger added, "Oh my, that was painful. I mean, they play the way we play. We had a taste of our own medicine. They don't give you much, like us. It was tough not to get frustrated. It must have been boring for the fans. But we still found a way to win. Two points. That's what matters."

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