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Now healthy, Souray proving himself in Edmonton

by Larry Wigge
Velocity equals instant impact.

It's an interesting study in quantum reaction -- and it's also the way opposing goaltenders look at those 90-plus mph shots that Edmonton Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray delivers with regularity.

"It's hard," Calgary Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff said. "He has such an easy motion. Even when you know it's coming, you have a clear look at him, you think you see the puck and then ... it's by you."

"He really brings it," St. Louis' Manny Legace said. "Having a guy out there firing away at you is a real weapon."

Souray's goal against Legace to key a 3-2 victory against the Blues at St. Louis on Nov. 30 was his eighth goal of the season -- a total that has him tied for second on the Oilers and underscores the true impact of the offense that the Elk Point, Alberta, native can unleash at any moment.

It's almost like a guessing game for opposing players. Goalies have to get in front of his shots. Defensemen think twice about trying to go down to block Souray's hard-to-handle drives.

"You wouldn't believe how the threat of Shelly shooting the puck from back there opens up the ice for us. Certainly, no one wants to go down to try to block his shot," center Shawn Horcoff said. "And it's not just his slap shot, either. His wrister or snap shot is faster than the rest of us can get a slap shot to the net."

Sometimes it's like a stealth weapon -- you just hear the whack of stick on puck and then you might also hear it whiz by you on the way to the net.

"It's just plain lethal," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "But don't be confused about Sheldon. He provides more than just a big shot. He's big and strong and nasty to play against. He makes an impact that way, too."

There are those who look at the 6-foot-4, 233-pounder and see that minus-28 total he had in the last of his seven seasons with Montreal in 2006-07 and say he's bad defensively. But those in the know say otherwise.

"No red light goes on in my mind to worry me about seeing Shelly in front of me when he's on the ice in our zone," Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson said. "He's been a plus player all season. Probably been our most valuable player next to Ales Hemsky."

Said Souray, "I had a lot of time to think about the commitment the Oilers made to me (five-year, $27 million free agent contract he signed in July 2007). I really wanted to come back home and make it all work, but then I hurt my shoulder (and played in only 26 games last season). I don't think the team or the Oilers fans saw enough of me on the ice instead of rehabbing in the training room."

What's so important this season is Souray's health and commitment to make things work out with the Oilers.

"There's a comfort level on the ice now," the 32-year-old defenseman said. "I can play my game without having to think about injuries or play cautiously.

"It was exciting as a fan to see how the team came together, young guys and old, to make a run at the playoffs. Three more points and they would have made it to the playoffs. So you can imagine how excited I was to be a part of that coming into this season -- not from the outside looking in."

In his defense, Souray says his defense often gets overlooked because of the offensive numbers he has put up.

"It's funny, but when I started in the NHL in New Jersey, my job was to be a physical stay-at-home defenseman," he said with a curious smile. "I thought I did a good job of it. But a few years ago, when my offense started coming, I guess I gave up some of the defense because the Canadiens were always putting me in offensive situations. Hey, I know the plus-minus statistics. I have no excuses, other than to say that I'm a better overall player than that."

Those offensive situations enabled to score 15, 12 and a total of 26 goals -- which was a League-high for defensemen and included a League-record 19 power-play goals for defensemen -- in his last three seasons in Montreal.

There were expectations on Souray in Montreal in his last couple seasons, when the Canadiens' power play became the No. 1 unit in the NHL with the man advantage. Some folks in Montreal are wondering where that No. 1-ranked power play has gone this season. Well, you could say a big part of it is alive and well and firing bullets in Edmonton -- as Souray has put the same kind of impact into the Oilers power play from the point along with newcomer Lubomir Visnovsky.

The shoulder? Don't ask. Sheldon is tired of answering those kinds of health questions. He just wants to play -- and perform up to his All-Star ability for the Oilers.

"I've had some experience coming back from injuries," Souray said. "I always feel like I have something to prove. This season ... I just wanted to be counted on in important situations by the Oilers."

Big shot. Big impact on defense. That's what Sheldon Souray is bringing to Edmonton this season.

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