Oilers' top line looks to pick up production
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."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press