Oilers' minus man

Edmonton Oilers captain Jason Smith has some explaining to do about his early season plus-minus...

Edmonton Oilers captain Jason Smith has some explaining to do about his early season plus-minus rating. (Edmonton Sun File/Walter Tychnowicz)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Jason Smith has never been judged by his stats line.

His contributions are measured more in strewn bodies, inspired teammates and the number of post-game ice packs they have to cart into the other team's dressing room.

But even he can't ignore the minus-7 blinking next to his name like a neon sign.

"Getting rid of it would be nice," he said yesterday after practice at the Bell Centre in Montreal. "You don't want to be seven-under par. It's something I'm going to work at. Obviously I want to be better individually. I need to bring my game up."

He's not exactly alone in that respect, and his plus-minus might be a little better if the Oilers' offence was a little more productive.

"Everybody is working at a fairly hard level, we're just not executing well enough or thinking the game well enough," said the captain.

"From me to everybody else: You need to bring to the table what you bring as a player, execute that to the best level you can."

THE BIG BREAK

The Oilers caught a lucky one when the Habs announced their best player of late, leading scorer and penalty-killing demon Chris Higgins, will miss tonight's game with a sprained ankle.

He injured the ankle in the third period last Saturday against New Jersey.

HOME SWEET HOME

Craig MacTavish figures Montreal is the right time and place to give Oilers rookie forward J.F. Jacques his third start of the season.

"He hasn't had a lot of playing time," said the coach. "Maybe playing in front of friends and family will give him a little bit more inspiration."

Jacques hasn't been dazzling anyone in practice lately, but MacTavish isn't sure that means a whole lot.

"He's the type of player who actually looks better in the game than he does in practice."

Besides, size and strength are never bad things to dress on the road.

"He has to bring a good, physical game," said MacTavish. "And he's a guy who, given the opportunity, can score as well. We want to see whether he's in the mix."

LOWE AT MEETINGS

Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe hopped the charter to Montreal, then immediately caught another plane for the GM meetings in Toronto, where the schedule figures to be one of the hot topics.

Some teams out west want more balance, a chance to see more of the young Eastern Conference superstars, while others will be griping about teams in soft divisions feasting on weak opponents eight times a year.

"From the Oilers' perspective, we hear our fans," said Lowe. "They want to see everybody, and I can't say that I disagree with them. If it means playing less games in your division, great."

Especially when Nashville and Detroit can pad their stats against Central Division dregs like St. Louis, Chicago and Columbus 24 times a year.

"There was a big discrepancy, no question, with the eight (division games each) and four (non-divisional conference games)," said Lowe. "It was a little more manageable and tolerable in the previous matrix, when it was six and four."


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