SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers stay focused

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- It is the season to be distracted.

There's not a lick of snow in town, but with Christmas right around the corner and all that it brings - family, friends, last-minute shopping and a chance to take a break from a hectic NHL schedule - Marc Crawford of the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers counterpart Craig MacTavish were preaching the importance of focus at General Motors Place last night.

Crawford's Canucks, once a near-perfect 13-1-0 at home, had blown leads in two straight games at The Garage, including a 5-4 overtime loss when the Oilers came calling last Saturday.

The Oilers, meanwhile, arrived on a three-game winning streak, despite their penchant for spotting opponents two-goal leads - something they did before coming back to pluck two points from the Montreal Canadiens, Canucks and the Calgary Flames.

DIDN'T GET THE MEMO

Apparently, neither Jussi Markkanen nor Alex Auld got the memo on focus from their respective bench bosses. That, or both stoppers got caught up in the giving spirit of the festive season - the teams combined for 13 goals as the Oilers defeated the Canucks for the fourth straight time this season, this time by a 7-6 count.

Ho, ho, ho.

"It was pretty crazy," said Marty Reasoner, who got the winner on a night 13 different players lit the lamp.

"It was just one of those games where it was back and forth, but that's the way it's been for us lately. We've had some wild ones."

Reasoner settled it 11:46 into the third period, deciding a last-shot-wins ode to old-time shinny when he deflected Marc-Andre Bergeron's shot behind Auld to earn the Oilers a share of first place in the Northwest Division.

It was a special teams battle that saw 10 goals scored in the opening 40 minutes alone, a stretch in which the Canucks took the lead four different times with the teams never more than a goal apart.

Having fished four pucks out of his net on nine shots, Markkanen got the hook in favour of Ty Conklin when Henrik Sedin put the Canucks up 4-3 just under four minutes into the second period.

"If you can really work at the mental toughness you need to focus and eliminate the distraction on game day at this time of year, you can have a considerable advantage at this time of year," MacTavish remarked.

"It's hard. Everybody is thinking of their families and Christmas, and there's been a lot of hockey played.

"But if we can continue to focus in you can take advantage of this time of year."

Auld wasn't a whole let better. When Raffi Torres pumped a puck past him on a power play to send the teams to the second intermission tied 5-5, Auld had allowed five goals on 17 shots.

"We played well in most of our games lately," Crawford said. "In the last couple, we've allowed teams to come back on us.

KILLER INSTINCT?

"People talk about whether it's killer-instinct or what, exactly. It might be, but I think for us right now at this time of the season, it's always focus issues that are most important for every team.

"If we've had a fault, it's that we've had those momentary spots in a game where we've made a few careless plays to allow teams to get back into it."

Auld did nothing to distinguish himself on Ryan Smyth's 6-5 goal as No. 94 sifted a slapper from a bad angle before Reasoner provided the first two-goal lead of the night.

"We've got to get out of this two-man rotation," smiled Conklin after MacTavish pulled his starter for a third straight game.

"The back-up finishing the game these last three games isn't what anybody planned."


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