'Stoll has been unreal'

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

Fact: The Edmonton Oilers have been without both Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky for six games now.

Related fact: Jarret Stoll has a six-game point scoring streak going.

"Stoll has been unreal,'' said GM Kevin Lowe the very second No. 16 scored to give the Oilers a 2-1 lead to send them on their way to a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild last night.

"He should be the first, second and third star,'' he added of the centre who has eight points during the span.

Stoll was only give first star. But first star was good enough for first place.

STEPPING UP

It's called stepping up. And Stoll, who is one of those players who has a chance to become more than just another NHL player, is definitely doing that.

"In the last six or seven games, he's playing his best hockey of his young career,'' said coach Craig MacTavish.

"He's playing his most consistent hockey, really taking a physical role on the team right now. He's definitely stepped up.

"The team needs him to be playing the way he's playing. And he is.''

Stoll was the story of the Oilers' last win at home as he went down like bowling pins twice on the same shift blocking shots, first with his right foot and then with his left.

Nobody is more impressed with the role Stoll has taken than Smyth himself.

"Right from the faceoff circle to the end of the shift, he's making something happen,'' said the injured Oiler who has been out for six games, two fewer than Hemsky.

Stoll was 16-4 in the faceoff circle last night, had 20:01 worth of ice time, topped all forwards in shots with five and also had five hits, three more than anybody else on the team. And eventually he grabbed the game by the throat.

For the longest time, this didn't look like a battle for first place. For the longest time it didn't look like a game between two teams which have appeared to be fighting for first in the division for weeks - two teams tied for the lead with identical records going into the game.

So much has been made of the most competitive division in hockey where three points separated first and fifth going into games last night, you'd have figured this one would have been larger than life. Or, at least, had some life to it.

But Matt Greene got it going with his first goal of his NHL career 43 minutes into it and Stoll, who assisted on the Greene goal, scored the winner with five minutes to go.

The Oilers talked a lot about coming up large in their 32 division games this year. But for the longest time, what we were watching looked a lot like last year when the Oilers were 2-6 against Minnesota and lost all four at home to the Wild.

In the end, however, it was a win and the Oilers moved into first place all alone, two points ahead of the team they'll play five of their last 19 games of the season, including back-to-back games in Minnesota in the final week of the season.

Stoll may have been the man of the match, but he said it was Greene that lit the fire.

"The play he made to get that first goal got us going. That got us going as a team. It took him awhile to get his first goal, that was a great time to get it.''

TOOK IT UPON HIMSELF

Stoll said he's tried to take it on himself to step up with Hemsky, Smyth and Ethan Moreau out of the lineup. But he said there's more to it than that.

"At the start of the year you were getting a lot of soft games by me. There was a lot of play from the perimeter.

"I want to take it upon myself to be physical from the start of the game and, like a lot of guys are trying to do right now when we're missing guys, to step up.''

Stepping up kept the Oilers on the top step of the division standings. And that's all this month is about right now, maintaining position until Smyth and Hemsky get back.


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