Plenty of hassle at home

Winger J.F. Jacques will fill in for the injured Ethan Moreau when the Edmonton Oilers play the...

Winger J.F. Jacques will fill in for the injured Ethan Moreau when the Edmonton Oilers play the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight. (Edmonton Sun/Jason Franson)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Bad news for the Edmonton Oilers - they're on a long homestand.

It doesn't make a lick of sense, but the one building in the entire NHL that the Oilers can't figure out is their own. Like a kid that inexplicably prefers broccoli to cake, they seem to prefer road games to the not-so-friendly confines of Rexall Place.

But with nine of their next 10 games in the House of Gloom, there's a real urgency to straighten this out.

"I thought earlier that it was just a hockey anomaly, just the product of us losing a few games that we should have won," said head coach Craig MacTavish, perplexed as to how the best road team in the NHL (17-8-3-1), is almost losing more games than it wins at home (11-10-2-0).

"I still think that's the difference, but it seems like there's a little more than that now. There's a definite sense that we're a more confident team on the road than we are here at home."

It would seem so. When the Oilers are at their energetic and rambunctious best, there is no building in the league more electric than Rexall Place.

But the current flows both ways. When the team falls asleep or mails it in, as they've done on more than a few occasions here, the crowd is quick to let them know about it. They've jumped on the goalies, heckled the power play, turned slumping players into whipping boys and booed the whole lot of them off the ice.

As is their right.

UNFRIENDLY PLACE

"A home building, when you don't have success, can be an unfriendly place to play and we certainly don't want that because we've had such an advantage over the years feeding off the energy of our fans and our fans feeding off the energy of our team," said MacTavish. "We have to get back to that relationship."

It's not always easy, as Cory Cross and Ty Conklin can attest. But Michael Peca was an early target, too, and battled his way into the good books.

"Definitely guys get tentative when the crowd is on them," he said. "On the power play when you're not getting a shot and people start jeering, guys try to force things and it just creates more problems. Or you have a stretch of tough shifts and they'll get on you.

OPPOSITE WORKS

"But the opposite works too. You go out and have a few hard working shifts in a row and that's what gets the fans back into it.

"It's not that we can't play at home because our fans are demanding. Every home crowd is demanding. We just need to have a little more assertiveness early in games."

In short, just give the people what they want.

"I think there's a natural tendency to come out with a little more desperation on the road because you're expecting the home team to come out hard," said Peca.

"Where we've lacked too long at home is we haven't come out and tried to take over games ourselves in the first 10 minutes.

"We just have to come out with a little bit more speed, a little bit more intensity and a lot more team toughness."

And fewer one-on-three rushes?

"The biggest thing is not trying to put on too much of a show and be too fancy," said Chris Pronger. "We're not a fancy team.

"We're a bump and grind, get the puck in, create turnovers and kill the other team with our aggressiveness, our speed and our forechecking team."

If they ever figure it out at home, the sky's the limit because teams that are this good on the road never have to open the playoffs there.

"It's not like our team to be struggling at home, but our road record is a very good sign," said Shawn Horcoff.

"There's still 30 games left. If we can improve our record at home and be the kind of team that we usually are, this bodes well for us.

"There's no better time to start than now, with nine of our next 10 games here. We have great fans; they're loud, they're vocal and they support us when we're playing well.

"We have to start using that more to our advantage."


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