If Dustin Penner has decided he’d rather walk the walk instead of talk the talk, then his silence after the Edmonton Oilers skated at Millennium Place today is a good thing.
Then again, if Penner’s decision not to talk to assembled reporters waiting on his every word for the better part of 30 minutes — only to discover they’d get not one grunt or syllable from him after camping out — was orchestrated by the team, then not so much.
Either way, Penner didn’t speak to reporters after practice today in the wake of being pulled off the first line for the second game in a row in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Nashville. The reasoning is that Penner will let his actions against the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday speak for him.
Penner, along with Marc Pouliot and Kyle Brodziak, instead put in some extra work after most of the rest of the team had left the ice as coaches extracted the sweat from the trio they didn’t get against Nashville.
In Penner’s place, coach Craig MacTavish faced the notepads and gave his take on the slump the big winger is mired in and his reasons for clipping his minutes alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.
“The message to the players is the time for dialogue is over and they can let their game do the talking tomorrow and they can answer the questions after the game,” MacTavish said of Penner, Pouliot and Brodziak. “It’s time to see it on the ice — a more committed, consistent level.”
With just two goals in his last 19 games, it doesn’t take a vast intellect to see that Penner is struggling mightily after playing a decent stretch of hockey — after MacTavish called him out and put him in the press box.
MacTavish wasn’t nearly as pointed in his criticism of Penner today as he was the first time around. Reasoned and even was the coach, at least for public consumption, after spending more than a few minutes having a heart-to-heart chat with No. 27 out on the ice.
“We haven’t had an answer on that left side for awhile,” MacTavish said. “We’ve tried a lot of players there on the left side. Over the course of the year, virtually everybody has had an opportunity there.
“The bottom line for Dustin is that he’s the best fit there when he’s playing. It might not be an ideal fit for him or those other two guys long-term, but, when he’s playing, he really adds an element to that line and we’ve seen it before.”
Not the answer
Penner got yanked away from Horcoff and Hemsky in Friday’s 3-1 win over Minnesota and ended up playing just 10:25. He finished with 13:26 in ice time against Nashville.
“Given his skill-set, it might be a stretch long-term,” reiterated MacTavish, talking about playing Penner with Horcoff and Hemsky. “But we need him to play better.
“At times, it’s an issue for him that he lacks the focus. He needs to be more focused on a consistent level. I know that’ll have a benefit to his overall game. I don’t have unrealistic expectations for them to go out there and be offensive contributors every night, but you have to find a way to help the overall product, find a way to be a contributor.
“You can always display intensity and physical play. There are a lot of things you can’t control. Your confidence level comes and goes. That’s tough to control. But, it’s the intensity…”
With just 11-12-23, it’s blatantly obvious Penner’s numbers aren’t nearly good enough for a player being paid $4.25 million and getting first-line minutes. And he hasn’t done enough to find those other ways to contribute, at least in MacTavish’s estimation.
Find a way
“It’s also the recognition and the personal responsibility to do everything to do everything away from the game itself to get yourself into a position where you’re more productive and playing up to your level of capability,” MacTavish said.
“A lot of players, they have trouble critiquing their own play. It’s a sense where you have to know you’re not playing at the top of your level. It’s got to be reflected in the way you conduct yourself between games — what you’re working on, how hard you’re working, how early you’re at the rink.
“I’ve been around the game long enough to know, that games fluctuate. Your confidence level fluctuates. If you’re recognizing that, whether you’re not as productive, and it’s exhibited and reflected in the way you conduct yourself, you have an ally in the coaching staff… I’ll work with a player as longer as he’ll work to help himself. That’s just the way it’s always been. If that’s not the case at the level we need him to be at, then it’s going to be uncomfortable.”
Penner gets his say tomorrow.
Sam Gagner skated with the Oilers today and his ankle has improved to the point where you can expect to see him in the line-up against Chicago Tuesday.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.