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Power play starting to take off

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers' Shawn Horcoff, right, celebrates his power play goal on the Calgary Flames with teammate Ales Hemsky, of the Czech Republic, during the first period NHL hockey action at Edmonton's Rexall Place on Sunday, January 13, 2008. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Ulan)
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The Edmonton Oilers head into tonight’s contest with the Los Angeles Kings having won four straight games. They’ve also scored a power play goal in six straight. Coincidence? Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish doesn’t think so.

“I think there are a lot of elements that are coming together,” MacTavish said when asked about the team’s recent success. “Most of the elements of our game have been pretty satisfactory the last little while. A big part of it is being healthy. Some of the guys have stepped into positions and filled out roles that I wasn’t sure they could do.”

For the first time all season, Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen have been relatively healthy for a good stretch of games now and it’s paying off in power play goals.

“The power play’s been okay lately. Didn’t have many opportunities the other night against Calgary but did capitalize on the one that we got.”

The Oilers had one goal on one opportunity against Calgary on Sunday. In fact, they scored 14 seconds into the man advantage.

“The record’s got to be good when we get power play goals,” MacTavish commented.

Certainly, the team has five wins in their last six games and have scored on the power play in each one of those contests. Overall this season they are 13-6-3 when scoring at least one goal on the power play and 5-0-0 when scoring more than one. The Oilers are 8-15-1 when held off the PP scoresheet.

Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray was part of the top power play unit in the NHL last season in Montreal. He talked about the reason for some of the success he had.

“In Montreal some of us played together for three or four years. We were starting to find a rhythm. When you do that, things start happening and it just snowballs. It starts becoming a little bit easier for you when you know what guys are going to do,” he said.

Souray noted that it’s taken awhile for the same type of cohesiveness to develop in Edmonton but it’s now starting to come together.

“We’re starting to get used to each other a little bit more, starting to see guys’ tendencies. They threw five guys together and some of us had never played together before,” he continued.

“Power play is a huge part of hockey today. The penalty killing, power play and special teams play such a factor. Things are starting to come together and it’s going to be an important part of our success from now until the end of the season.”

Souray did note that even though the power play has been going along at a 25.0% clip (7-for-28) in recent games, at 14.1% over the entire season there’s still plenty of improvement needed.

Edmonton Oilers' Tom Gilbert scores during a power play on Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo during first period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Ulan)
“We have a long way to go. We’re 28th (ranked in the NHL) and you have to at least be in the top half to have any success.”

Shawn Horcoff agreed with Souray’s sentiment that familiarity had a lot to do with the team’s early struggles.

“Personally it’s a comfort level and chemistry. For the first 20 games of the year there were different guys in every game and understandable when you’re struggling the coach is trying to change things. But at the same time it’s tough to build and chemistry or comfort level for other players,” said Horcoff.

“We were running certain plays and it’s just too confusing. Now we keep it a lot simpler. We have certain breakouts and certain routes that we run. I’m sure there’s common things we want to expose from an offensive point of view but other than that I think it allows us to do our own thing.”

Since Souray returned to the lineup on December 13, the power play has been much better at 11-for-55 for 20.0%. Horcoff felt that Souray’s return is now starting to pay off in the recent resurgence of Jarret Stoll who has three goals and seven points in his last eight games.

“Having Stolly and Shelly back there, more often than not they’re only taking one guy away and if they take two we have to recognize the openings and expose it.”

Another reason for success on the power play has been the play of the team’s second power play unit. Sam Gagner says that simplicity is a big reason for the recent improvement.

“Chemistry obviously plays a huge role on your power play but at the same time it comes down to execution. Earlier in the year we seemed to be doing a lot of things right but we weren’t getting goals. Now guys are doing the little things right and making sure we have good clean passes where we can get shots off,” he said, adding that the team is now finding ways to put rebounds in.

“Our first unit scores a lot of big goals for us and as a second unit you want to go out there and ride that momentum, continue to create chances and hopefully bang a couple goals in.”

Tom Gilbert has been healthy all season long and seen the power play at its highest and lowest points this season.

“It’s something we’ve stressed a lot and was our downfall in the first half of the season but we’ve been moving the puck really well and getting shots to the net lately,” he said.

“I just think it’s starting to click. We’ve got a first unit that is moving the puck really well and they’ve got good chemistry going. They’re getting shots to the net – that’s probably the most crucial point of any power play – and we’ve been doing a good job of that the last six games.”
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