Sykora's got his groove back
All he needed for Christmas was a playmaker named Hemsky on the wing
Dan Barnes, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2006
On behalf of Petr Sykora, I'd like to say thanks but no thanks. He doesn't need anything else for Christmas.
You may have noticed, since you see everything, that Sykora already received two gift-wrapped goals from Ales Hemsky Tuesday at Rexall Place. These were two gaping nets that even the least likely scorer in the National Hockey League could hit, one-handed and blindfolded, while suffering the effects of the office Christmas party.
When Hemsky returned to the Oilers lineup after his shoulder injury healed, Santa, it was basically a two-for-one deal because everybody knew he was bringing Sykora with him. But the full effect wasn't felt until Tuesday, two games into Hemsky's comeback, both of which were played against Colorado.
And that's another thing, Santa. You may have noticed the Oilers and Avalanche have played a lot of games lately. If you could possibly deliver a load of coal to the NHL head office in New York, schedule-hating hockey fans here would appreciate the sentiment.
But back to Sykora, Santa. He had looked like a guy who needed a piano removed. Not from his house, from his back. For 10 games he wandered around the ice without a goal and for eight of those without his imaginative linemate. And if anybody had wondered who made whom a better player on that first line, the question was answered emphatically yet again in the third period of Tuesday's wacky affair.
"I was kind of struggling to score," admitted Sykora. "The puck just didn't go in. I still had chances."
None quite like the couple he was going to receive on this night. There he was in the Avs' zone, standing all by himself to the side of goalie Peter Budaj, early in the third period. Hemsky was in the corner, straddling the goal line. He whistled the puck through a couple of sets of legs, as if on a rope, and Sykora banged it home for his first goal in 11 games.
The chemistry set they opened up back in training camp kept on working. Hemsky stole the puck from a Colorado player at the Avalanche blue-line, danced toward the net and dished to Sykora, who was standing all alone on the other side of Budaj this time. Another open net. Bang, bang. His first two-goal game since Nov. 21.
"He makes everybody around him better," Sykora said of Hemsky. "He's a really special player. There are not many like him in the league; maybe three, four or five."
Hemsky is the set-up man, the creative genius; Sykora the trigger man. They are yin and yang, Martin and Lewis, bacon and eggs. Had they not slept through a healthy portion of Tuesday's ridiculous 7-6 loss, it wouldn't have been a loss.
Well, the Oilers could have used some decent goaltending and defence, too, but you get the idea.
"They've got some chemistry but you hate to waste a couple of plays like that," moaned head coach Craig MacTavish.
"We should all be talking about six goals and offence, yet we're all talking about our inability in our own end, or I am, anyways."
We can empathize. But Sykora and Hemsky promise to provoke conversation on many more nights and goalie Dwayne Roloson can be forgiven for a bad one, even while Santa watches.
Hemsky's shoulder injury hasn't robbed him of any of the magic that makes him the Oilers' most dangerous player. And together, he and Sykora are much more than the sum of their parts. It's always been that way in hockey. Oh sure, you get your Legion of Doom every few decades but, by and large, there is magic in pairs, not trios.
And if you're wondering, Santa, when Shawn Horcoff will get back to the absolute peak of his game, wait until Ryan Smyth's right thumb heals. That probably won't happen until after Christmas, when you have more time to watch. It should be worth tuning in, since they play off one another and the Oilers will finally be a complete team again.
That certainly wasn't the case Tuesday, despite the fact Sykora and Hemsky picked up where they had left off. So much of their game was out of synch.
Roloson was awful. Many of them cried and shouted and pouted. They were naughty, too, as eight penalties would suggest. With mere days to go before Christmas, this can only be viewed as extremely risky behaviour on their part. They had to know you were watching, Santa, what with picture-in-picture and digital video recorders, satellite and Tivo and all that stuff available everywhere.
But leave a little something under the tree for them anyway. Just make sure your gift isn't another game against Colorado. It's not that they don't appreciate the grace of Ossi Vaananen, the will of iron-man Karlis Skrastins and the comedic stylings of a guy like Ian Laperriere. It's not that they're Antti Laaksonen or anything.
But nobody wants to see these two teams play another game against one another.
At least until Groundhog Day.