There will be more lopsided losses sustained by the young Oilers this year, though most will not be as heated as the Sean Avery-fuelled mayhem that became of the recent 8-2 loss to the Rangers.
But even when the game was still within Edmonton’s grasp, the signs were there that any sort of pressure from New York would expose the visitors.
One particular soft spot came in the realm of key faceoffs. At one point in the second period, captain Shawn Horcoff lost two in a row on the same shift, one in each team’s zone. The Oilers weren’t bloodied at that particular time, but when you come in as underdogs, giving away momentum is a no-no.
As the team’s first-year captain, there is naturally pressure on Horcoff to shepherd his squad through the turmoil of being an inexperienced squad. And while the big center has put up very nice numbers – 10 points and an even plus-minus rating through 13 games – both he and big left winger Dustin Penner will forever be linked to their contracts.
To put it another way, Horcoff is not quite a point-per-game player and is winning just 48 percent of his faceoffs. Penner is tallying half a point per game. Yet the two combine to eat up nearly $10 million of salary cap space, something they will also do next year. Then, Penner is a free agent while Horcoff continues on at $5.5 million a season for another three campaigns.
Not that you can blame Horcoff, who signed his huge long-term deal in the heady aftermath of Edmonton’s run to the Stanley Cup final, but the ramifications of ex-GM Kevin Lowe’s deals are still being felt. The fact Horcoff is a leader certainly helps his case; he’s a hard-worker with intangibles and the type of guy who can act as a steward in Edmonton until the inevitable passing of the torch to a player such as Jordan Eberle or Taylor Hall down the road.
But there will continue to be short-term pain for the Oilers when players can’t possibly live up to their contracts, no matter how good Horcoff is in the dressing room.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.