SUN Hockey Pool

Roadhogs ready to go

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

Home is where the heart is, but the road is where the points are.

It doesn't make a lick of sense that the Edmonton Oilers have a better record in their away sweaters than they have at Rexall Place, but on the eve of a three-game eastern road trip, no one's complaining.

"I think when we get out on the road we know what our identity is,'' said centre Mike Peca. "Working hard, keeping a simple game plan and executing. When we're at home we kind of get away from that, try to be a little fancy for the home crowd and get away from what our identity is.''

Through 28 games, enough evidence to represent a trend, the Oilers rank 22nd in the NHL at home (six wins in 12 games)and fourth in the league on the road, having won eight of their last 11 and nine of 16 overall.

It's a complete reversal from last season, when they were 17th in the NHL on the road and 11th at home.

"We're a little older this year, a little bigger and we've got more experience,'' said captain Jason Smith. "In the past we'd get behind and end up in a panic situation and the game would get away from us in five minutes. Now we've done a better job in dealing with that and competing in those tough situations.''

COULD'VE BEEN SUNK

No kidding. It wasn't that long ago that the Oilers were mired in a terrible slump, riding a six-game losing streak, culminating in a 7-1 embarrassment at home, and heading out on the road for 10 of their next 11. That could have sunk them right then and there.

Massive trades, firings, panic in the streets. All of it was cued up and ready to go.

But the Oilers went 7-3 during their three weeks away from Edmonton and returned home like conquering heros - and promptly lost three of their next six at Rexall Place.

Doh!

"It's a good thing we have such a strong road record because it will serve us well down the stretch,'' said Peca. "But it's almost a waste if you can't establish a very strong home record.''

Indeed. A .500 home record isn't going to get Edmonton anywhere near the playoffs, but they'll worry about that when they're home for Christmas.

Right now the primary concern is winning at least two of three in Philadelphia, Long Island and New Jersey, teams they haven't seen in two years.

"You don't know a lot about the teams,'' said Smith, whose club has played 27 of its 28 games this year against Western opponents. "But you know that when you go into Philly you're going to get a good game and Jersey is one of the better teams in the league.''

PHILLY LEGIONS

The Flyers have been a major attraction in Canada, everywhere they visit you'll see a legion of Philly sweaters in the crowd, and their appeal isn't limited to just the fans.

Players get up for them, too. Dave Schultz doesn't goon there anymore and Bobby Clarke throws his cheap shots from the GM's suite now, but rolling onto Broad Street is still a unique experience.

"For Canadian guys, going to Montreal and Toronto are always at the top of the list, but Philly is up there, too,'' said Staios, one of just a few Oilers who played in the old Spectrum.

"Really cool. It's an intimidating building. The fans are rowdy and really close to you, and they've always had physical teams in Philly, it was quite the experience.

"It's one of those buildings you look forward to going to and playing because of the tradition.''

Peca, having played eight years in Buffalo and Long Island before coming to Edmonton, knows all eastern haunts intimately.

"They're great games to play in, hard, fast physical games,'' he said. "I always enjoyed going to those rinks and playing, it's going to be fun to go back.'


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