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Losing Smyth Tough Break for the Oilers

November 27, 2001|Lonnie White

With 14 victories in their first 25 games, the Edmonton Oilers sit atop the Northwest Division, but that doesn't mean they're playing like a first-place team heading into games against the Mighty Ducks and Kings this week.

Not with winger Ryan Smyth sidelined after surgery to repair a broken right ankle earlier this month.

Edmonton is 1-2-1 and has not scored more than two goals in a game since Smyth went down. With him on the ice, they had scored at least three goals 12 times.

"It was unrealistic to think that a team would go on uninterrupted offensively after losing a player the caliber of Ryan," Edmonton Coach Craig MacTavish said of Smyth, who will not be in the lineup for at least two more months.

"To have our best forward out, there's going to be some times when we're going to miss him. No question."

The Oilers have been a different team since Smyth, who has 23 points in 21 games, suffered his injury against Chicago on Nov. 16. They miss his gritty play in the corners and in front of the net.

But injuries are part of the game and the Oilers understand that no one is going to feel sorry for them.

"It's nice to know you're up on teams in the standings but you want to keep that gap as wide as possible," right wing Anson Carter said. "We've encountered a tough break, with Smytty breaking his ankle, but a sign of a good team is one that can overcome adversity."

Because of Smyth's versatility, it's been tough for the Oilers to find a replacement for him on the team's No. 1 line, which also includes center Mike Comrie and Carter.

When Smyth was injured, MacTavish turned to Josh Green at left wing and the former King responded with two goals in a 7-1 victory over the Blackhawks.

Green, however, failed to keep up his offensive production and was replaced by grinder Domenic Pittis, who has played in only four games this season, in the third period of Saturday's 2-0 loss at Colorado.

MacTavish said he'll probably stick with Pittis when the Oilers play the Ducks at the Arrowhead Pond on Wednesday.

"That's the nature of our team," MacTavish said. "We have a lot of depth [and] you can go from the fourth line to the first if you are playing well.

"We have to find a way to get some offense going again. [Goaltender] Tommy [Salo] got us a point in a game in which we didn't get a goal [a 1-0 overtime loss at Boston on Nov. 6]. We can't expect him to do that every night."

Until Smyth returns, the Oilers are counting on their depth.

"We have a lot of interchangeable parts. It is a matter of what fits and what doesn't," said Carter, who leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 24 points.

"A big part of our hockey club is not there and a big part of our line that was doing so well is not there. That means we have to find some other guys to step up and do the job. Not only on our line but the other lines as well.

"It's not going to be easy because we had such chemistry. We have guys who are capable ... and now it is just a matter of getting the job done."

Power Play in Reverse

Leave it to Detroit Coach Scotty Bowman to copy something and turn it into an advantage for the Red Wings.

Last season, Minnesota had the league's worst power play but is No. 1 this season. The key to the Wild's turnaround has been an inverted power play, which features a quarterback at the goal line, rather than the blue line.

Bowman has considered that strategy for years but he did not turn to it until Minnesota began using it full-time this season.

"Every time you get the puck back to the point, it is now 50 feet from the net," Bowman told the Toronto Sun. "What we're trying to explain to the players is to pretend that the goal line is the point. Work backward. Work from the goal line."

Detroit has two main power-play units, but Bowman has only one using the inverted method. Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Igor Larionov are the forwards. Nicklas Lidstrom and Fredrik Olausson are the defensemen. The alignment features the forwards spread across the ice down low with one defenseman at the blue line and another player down the middle about 30 feet out.

"What it does to the defending team is, it makes them turn sideways," said Bowman, whose Red Wings' power play ranks second in the league behind Minnesota's. "If you're a goalie or a penalty killer and the puck is out at the point, that's the only time you feel a little relieved. Even though they can shoot it, at least you know where everybody is. When the puck goes behind you, you're worried. You lose sight of it. You're turning to one side or the other."

Line Shifts

* If you've ever watched Edmonton play, it's easy to notice that the Oilers have four players of color, Carter, Mike Grier, Georges Laraque and Sean Brown.

"We don't think anything of it," Carter said. "From the outside looking in, you might think [it's unusual]. But we don't think so. We're all one big happy family.

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