Growing pains

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

While they've been far from flawless, the Edmonton Oilers have avoided a hangover from their trip to the Stanley Cup final last spring through 11 games this season.

That, as history has shown, isn't easy to do, but the Oilers, even with a sizable bump in the road in back-to-back losses to Anaheim and Phoenix, have managed it pretty well.

In what's been equal parts attention to detail, very good goaltending and resisting the temptation to think they're better than they are, the Oilers are 7-4-0 in the Western Conference and have bounced back from the playoff grind and a short summer rather nicely.

They've done it without Chris Pronger, Michael Peca. Sergei Samsonov, Georges Laraque and Jaroslav Spacek. And in spite of predictions by some experts who picked last season's eighth seeds to miss the post-season altogether this time around.

SOLID START

All in all, impressive.

"So far, it's going all right," says Ryan Smyth, neck-and neck with Ales Hemsky and Petr Sykora as the best Oiler forward to this point in the season.

"Last year was something unbelievable. It wasn't the ending that we wanted, but we wanted to try to make sure we got right back to that level again."

They haven't managed that, but at 6-0-0 at Rexall Place as the Nashville Predators pay a visit tonight, the Oilers have equalled the franchise's win streak to start a season at home, mitigating a 1-4-0 road record.

That said, they leaned on Dwayne Roloson and Jussi Markkanen too heavily at times in going 6-2 in their first eight games. They could've been 4-4. The saving grace - notwithstanding a 6-2 hummer in Phoenix - is they are smart enough to realize it.

"We haven't always been at the level we want to be, but, all in all, we've executed pretty well," captain Jason Smith said.

Last Thursday's spanking by the abysmal Coyotes was a crystal clear reminder that the Oilers aren't good enough to let things slide even a bit and still win - especially if Roloson and Markkanen have an average night. They simply don't have that much of a margin to work with. Better to learn that lesson early.

"In the past, we might have been a little bit inconsistent," Smith said. "Consistency is a big part of being successful.

"We've had some player changes since last year's run, but the experience and knowledge we gained from playing well, we've learned that every game is important."

AVOIDED SWINGS

The Oilers started last season 4-6-1 through their first 11 games, a stretch that included a seven-game losing slide followed by a five-game win streak that got them to 8-6-1.

To this point, they have avoided drastic swings in performance and result - again, save for Phoenix and a bounce-back 4-0 whitewash of Washington in back-to-back games.

"Not everybody can be at the top of their game every night," Roloson said. "It's the consistency that's the most important and I think we've been fairly consistent all year."

Says Smith: "We didn't play as well as we could those two games on the road and we re-focused and we're looking to play well."

More of the same against Nashville and Dallas Friday will keep the Oilers in reasonable shape going into a five-game road swing followed by a stretch in which they'll play seven straight at home.

"We come out and compete for everybody in this locker-room and try to continue what we had last year," Smyth said.


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