<
>

Oilers' top line looks to pick up production

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Shawn Horcoff insists he's forgotten
about the two sure goals Cam Ward took away from him with
Gumby-like agility.

With Carolina's crisp defense, its fearless mind-set to dive in
front of flying pucks, and Ward's ability to keep Horcoff's
point-blank shots out of the net, the Edmonton Oilers' potent
scoring line has been shut down in the Stanley Cup finals.

"We're just trying to get a little more luck going," Horcoff
said Friday. "It's not like we're not getting chances. We've
created chances. Short of a couple of spectacular saves, we'd have
two or three goals by now. But we can't dwell on that."

Horcoff and linemates Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth have combined
for one point -- a power-play goal by Hemsky -- in Edmonton's losses
in Carolina that have the Oilers down 0-2 heading into Game 3 on
Saturday night.

When they pressed for the tying goal twice in the third period
of the opener, the rookie Ward made two highlight-reel saves to
deny the opportunistic Horcoff -- diving post-to-post to swat pucks
away. The Edmonton center entered the series with five goals and 17
assists in helping the Oilers win three rounds and become the NHL's
first No. 8 seed to reach the finals.

Since Edmonton took a 3-0 lead in Game 1, Carolina owns a 10-1
scoring edge. The Oilers didn't get any of their 25 shots past Ward
in a 5-0 loss Wednesday.

"We don't want to put pressure on guys internally to score
because a lot of times that pressure can manifest itself in risk
taking," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "We want an overall
complete game and that's what has gotten us to this point."

Horcoff and Smyth were on the negative side of the plus-minus
ledger in both defeats. Hemsky was even in the second contest, but
Horcoff didn't record a shot on goal in that one when the
Hurricanes blocked 24 attempts in front of Ward.

"I don't think we've played all that bad, to tell you the
truth, it's just we haven't had that production we've been able to
find throughout these playoffs and in the regular season," Horcoff
said. "We're not looking to make any excuses. We've got to find a
way, and if we can't find a way it's going to be tough for us to be
successful."

The talk Friday was that lineup changes might be in store for
Game 3. MacTavish has the last line change at home, so even if he
doesn't shake up the on-ice personnel he could move his big trio
away from Rod Brind'Amour's line.

Horcoff lost 18 of 27 faceoffs when matched mostly against the
Carolina captain in Game 1, and bounced back to even in the
rematch.

Expending so much energy and focus on that aspect could be
contributing to the lack of finishing power on the trio that netted
77 goals in the regular season and 15 more in the playoffs. A line
centered by Michael Peca -- who excels as a checker and faceoff
specialist -- could prove effective against Brind'Amour and allow
Horcoff and Co. to concentrate on getting the offense going.

"In talking to Horc, both him and I think we have much more
room for improvement," Smyth said. "If it's Brind'Amour's line
that we play against, then we obviously have to match it or do even
better."

Smyth has one goal in eight games, Horcoff none in seven, and
Hemsky two in the previous nine.

That lack of scoring punch became more evident when the Oilers
went 0-for-6 on the power play in Game 2 after a 1-for-7
performance in losing the opener 5-4.

One change MacTavish might consider is returning defenseman Dick
Tarnstrom to the lineup to help with the man advantage.

Tarnstrom, a noted point producer acquired from Pittsburgh in
January, was scratched for 11 of the past 12 games. One season
removed from tallying 16 goals and leading the Penguins in scoring
with 52 points, the 31-year-old Swede had a goal and three assists
in 22 games with Edmonton and 14 points overall with a minus-15
rating.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "We haven't scored in a
while and obviously it isn't as good as it was. We just need to
move the puck a little quicker and try to open it up."