Says defenseman Randy Gregg, "I think lately Coffey's withdrawn a little as a way of protecting himself from the criticism he gets—and that we get as a team—for being too offensive-minded. He knows how much he contributes, and it hurts him when people expect more." It's a measure of Coffey's sensitivity that on March 13, in a game at Quebec, he coined the expression "Skate of Shame" to describe the feeling a player has when skating from the penalty box to the bench after the opposition has scored a power-play goal. That night Coffey took a penalty at 0:32 in overtime—"AH I could do was sit there thinking about taking the Skate of Shame," he says—then came out of the box to make amends with the game-winning goal.
"Actually, Paul's improved his play a lot in our zone," says defenseman Charlie Huddy. "Three years ago we used to really get on him to tighten up." Says Coffey, "Now I pick my spots for rushing. I don't try to force something that isn't there. And I know I don't turn over the puck as much."
Off the ice, Coffey is relaxed and animated, particularly when conversation turns to one of his favorite rock singers, Jim Morrison of The Doors. Coffey has just finished No One Here Gets Out Alive, a biography of Morrison, who died of a heart attack under mystifying circumstances in 1971. "I think what drove Morrison crazy," says Coffey, "was that he saw himself one way, as a serious musician, a rock poet, but his fans saw him as an onstage sex symbol. He gave them one thing, and they wanted something else."
The Oilers can give their fans what they want only if they harness their emotions—that wasn't the case last season—and if their offensive pyrotechnics can finally pierce the Dense Pack, beat Smith and, as Morrison sang, "set the night on fire." If not, only the Drive for Five gets out alive.