Horcoff returns after rubbing shoulders with NHL's elite
|Oilers centre Shawn Horcoff looks for a pass as Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov defends during Sunday's NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta. (photo: Getty Images)
The trio had plenty of scoring opportunities including one by Horcoff late in the game that nearly put the Western Conference in the lead.
“We had lots of chances. I guess that part was a little bit frustrating but it was a lot of fun. They’re both great players.”
The feeling was mutual in the case of Kopitar, who was thrilled to play with Horcoff.
“It always helps to be around great players,” Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar told NHL.com. “You never know when you’re going to see a couple of moves or plays that you can copy.”
After winning the fastest skater in Saturday's skills competition, Horcoff averaged 17:25 of ice time to lead all forwards on either team. He also peppered five shots on goal trailing only Rick Nash and Dion Phaneuf in that category.
“I think (head coach Mike Babcock) was rolling four lines at a time so I don’t know if that was a good thing or bad thing,” Horcoff chuckled about his ice time. He did also lead all players with an average shift time of 1:27.
With a growing leadership role on a young Oilers squad, it was certainly beneficial to the team to have Horcoff play in the all-star game and rub shoulders with some of the league’s elite.
“A sense of belonging, really,” Horcoff said when asked what he learned from his Western Conference teammates that he could bring back from the game. “And a sense of belief in yourself and you just see how they carry themselves and how professional they are.”
Horcoff was also asked which players he’d like to bring back with him.
“Yeah, all of them,” he laughed. “If we could bring them all back it would be great. With all that talent it’s pretty hard to pick just one or two guys.”
He did point out that the pace of the game was much different from the usual NHL game but it was still competitive, particularly with so many newcomers on the Western Conference side this year.
“It’s relaxed and guys want to have a good time. For a player like me, it’s a little bit different because you’re relaxed but when you get those chances you want to be ready for them.”
Down by four goals heading into the second period, the Western Conference side did buckle down and made a game of it, eventually tying the game up. The West outshot the East 38-17 through the final two periods.
“We had a little bit of a team talk in between the first and second period when we were down 5-1 – we didn’t want to get too embarrassed.”
The NHL did a good job accommodating families at the event, Horcoff made sure to note.
“It was nice to have my wife and kids there. They really do a good job of treating the families right. My parents had a great time there, too.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
Horcoff didn’t skate Monday evening or this morning in order to rest up due to the travel involved in coming back from Atlanta. He says he will be ready to go tonight when the Oilers resume their schedule against the San Jose Sharks and begin the quest of getting into a playoff position.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us but we’ve been down this road before. We have a confidence that we can put a good run together and get ourselves back in position. You need to be within striking distance in March or you have to pretty much play perfect hockey to get in.”
Horcoff pointed out that the lower half of the Western Conference is trending toward a lower point total than past years. Eighth place Calgary had 96 points last season but this year eighth place Colorado is trending closer to 91.
“In the past, it’s taken 94 or 95 points to get in but with the parity and amount of teams this year it might be a little bit less,” he said.
The team will likely have an added boost after an improbable come-from-behind victory Thursday against the Florida Panthers narrowed the gap between themselves and the last playoff spot from seven points to five.
“That win going into the break was a huge lift for us. It put us back into striking distance. You’re one big streak away from getting back in it.”