Edmonton falls back on defence

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

Old habits die hard. Lucky for the Edmonton Oilers.

For years, Craig MacTavish has been drumming it into their heads that when all else fails, as it usually will during the course of an 82-game season, you can fall back on team defence.

And after all else failed rather spectacularly in a pair of 6-2 losses in Anaheim and Phoenix, and with the most dangerous player in hockey up next on the schedule, they realized the best way to avoid another spanking was to protect their own end.

WAS STRUGGLING

Dwayne Roloson had been struggling, the offence had been sputtering and the potential for an ambush by Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals was very real.

But as the Caps quickly discovered, it's tough to get a decent ambush going when you only get three shots in the first period.

Or nine, despite three power plays, in the second.

Or just seven in a desperate third, with the game very much up for grabs until a pair of goals in the final three minutes made it 4-0.

Washington barely gets a sniff, Roloson gets a shutout and the Oilers get a win they absolutely needed for their standings, confidence and peace of mind.

Look after your defensive play, and your defensive play will look after you.

"We know we have the guys who can score. The biggest thing for us is playing solid and making smart plays,'' said Marty Reasoner, plus-1 with an empty net goal in the win.

A TEAM STAPLE

"It's kind of been a staple of our team forever that it doesn't matter how skilled you are, you have to play in your own end first, and get your chances from there.''

With the exception of those West Coast hiccups, they have.

In 11 games this season, they've held the other team to two or fewer goals seven times.

Last year they only did it once through 11 games, and only 10 times through Christmas.

"We know that we can win by shutting teams down,'' said Ryan Smyth.

"The experience that we gained in the playoffs last year really helps.''

And Roloson knows that, too.

But as Anaheim and Phoenix demonstrated, relying on a goaltender to cover your lapses isn't going to be a formula for any long-term success.

Being able to protect a 2-0 lead against Ovechkin until you catch a late break and an empty-netter is.

BLOCKED SHOTS

So are things like Steve Staios and Ladislav Smid combining for nine blocked shots.

Or Shawn Horcoff and Jarret Stoll combining to go 20-5 in the faceoff circle.

"We're winning games 2-1 and 3-1, which is maybe what we didn't do two or three years ago,'' remarked Stoll.

"It's good to win those games and know that you can win those games.''

"Before, we'd give up those late goals a lot of times,'' added Reasoner.

"I think it's good sign that we've been hanging in in tight games.

''Later in the year, those low scoring, one-or two-goal games become that much more important, and we're going to feel comfortable in them.''


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