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8:23 PM ET, 5/30/06
Oilers decide to get lost
Posted by Michael Farber
The Edmonton Oilers have ripped a page out of the dynastic Montreal Canadiens playbook by deciding to get lost.
Facing an eight-day layoff before the start of the Stanley Cup final, the Oilers are heading out of town for a few days for a mini-training camp. Although the move might be a natural reaction to the struggles of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim -- the Ducks were sluggish early in their series against Edmonton after a long wait for the Oilers -- it has its historical roots in Montreal, which the Canadiens would abandon gleefully during the playoffs.
As a native Quebecer, Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe would certainly know the history that, I am told, started with former coach Dick Irvin Sr. in the 1940s and 1950s and became standard practice in the 1970s and 1980s. The Canadiens generally would hide out in the Laurentians, hills about an hour north of the city. During one protracted playoff run in the 1980s, they actually bivouaced in a hotel on an island in the St. Lawrence River, which surrounds the city. No crocodiles. No media, either.
This is the eternal playoff question: to sequester or not sequester? The New Jersey Devils, acolytes of the Canadiens, were the firmest believers in keeping the team together in hotels once the playoffs commenced. There was a particular spot that team president Lou Lamoriello favored in the Bergen County town of Teaneck, known in its most recent incarnation as the Glenpointe Marriott. The chafing players used to refer to it as the Gunpoint Marriott, but it is tough to argue with three Stanley Cups.
Edmonton is more media friendly than the Devils -- New Jersey would practice late in the afternoons in the fond hope of scaring off some deadline-challenged journalists before retiring to their team meal -- but they are also circumspect about staying out of the mainstream during the playoffs. In the first round of the playoffs against Detroit, the Oilers stayed at a suburban hotel. Against Anaheim, they stayed in a Disney-free zone. Certainly they will try to lose themselves in either Carolina or Buffalo, not that anybody other than Chris Pronger and Michael Peca would move the needle on the recognition dial -- at least in Raleigh.
Anyway, summer's approaching. A little camp time can't hurt.
The city of Buffalo is famous for its hot wings. If only Buffalo's hockey team could make the same claim.
Fighting through a cruel streak of injuries, the Sabres came thisclose to taking a 3-2 lead into tonight's do-or-die Game 6 at HSBC Arena. Outside of a pair of softies in Game 5, goalie Ryan Miller has been a rock in the series. The young defenders called up to replace three fallen regulars have performed as well as, if not better than, expected. And the center corps has rallied hard to compensate for the absence of the very dangerous Tim Connolly.
But those wings? You can't say there's much zip in their game.
JP Dumont, Maxim Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik and Jochen Hecht are the flankers on the Sabres' top two offensive lines. And in the trio of losses to Carolina thus far, the quartet has contributed exactly zero goals.
In fact, over much of the series, these wings look as though they've passed their Best By date. And when the Sabres look back at missed opportunities and blown chances that might have turned the tide against Carolina, too many of them involved those four players. Game 5 alone could easily have been a Buffalo win if only Afinogenov had converted a late breakaway chance or if Hecht had cashed in a gimme putt early in overtime.
That this group can be the difference-makers is evidenced by Game 3, a 4-3 Buffalo victory where the quartet accounted for a goal (the winner by Kotalik) and five assists.
During the regular season, Buffalo's wings chipped in 85 goals, slightly better than one per game among them. That might not sound like a lot, but one goal could tilt the balance in a closely-contested and low-scoring match. If this series is to return to Raleigh for the seventh game, this group will have to channel some of that pent-up magic into results on the scoreboard.
If they don't, the Sabres will have all summer to re-work their recipe for next season.