Turns 31, scores 30th

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The scribe was pulling teeth trying to extract a quote out of Ryan Smyth.

Finally out of questions, the sportswriter made one last attempt to push his buttons.

"Is having your contract go down to the wire like this distracting?'' he asked of Smyth's impending free agency five days before the NHL trade deadline.

Sitting beside Smyth, in the dressing room, Shawn Horcoff laughed.

"Does it look like it is?"

For the fourth time in his career, Smyth became a 30-goal scorer last night.

The day following his 31st birthday, No. 94 set up two others, including one which rated a mark for artistic impression to make Horcoff a two-goal guy.

MAKE OR BREAK

Smyth's three-point night in a 4-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets stopped the bleeding in Game 5 of the seven-game 'Make or Break The Season' road trip in which the Edmonton Oilers had failed to win until this stop.

With the Detroit Red Wings going for a franchise record 14th consecutive home victory when they play the Oilers tonight, well ...

"We needed that," said G.M. Kevin Lowe who caught back up to the team here yesterday following the GM meetings in Florida.

"We needed a couple of other guys up there with 30 goals this year," he added.

It was Smyth's 14th multi-point game of the season in which he missed 10 games due to injury. He needs 10 more goals to eclipse his high of 39 and become a 40-goal scorer for the first time in his career.

Smyth, in 51 games, has produced 52 points. If he can continue the pace it would also be his first point-per-game year of his career.

Not bad in terms of timing when it comes to negotiating the most important contract of his career.

Five days to the trade deadline and there's still no news. After meeting with Smyth's agent Don Meehan in Toronto prior to heading to Florida, Lowe characterized negotiations as being optimistic. He said that hasn't changed one way or the other since then.

Is it likely the Smyth situation will be settled before the trip ends in Minnesota Sunday and the Oilers head home for Mark Messier's banner raising?

"Tough to say," said Lowe.

A contract would have been a great birthday present the day before. But hey, they already gave him the Blue Jackets for his birthday when the schedule came out.

To Smyth, Columbus is Christmas.

He has a career record of 14 goals and 15 assists in 23 games against these guys.

"Right from the morning skate, he had great jump," said coach Craig MacTavish.

"That whole line had it from the first shift tonight," he added.

Horcoff scored his 14th and 15th of the year and Ales Hemsky collected an assist.

"It was a good thing we weren't paying Ryan by the mile tonight, a good thing we weren't playing him off the odometer," added MacTavish of the skating he did.

NO PINE THIS TIME

Smyth said he had a little mileage coming to him here.

"Hard to believe Mac once sat me here," he said of a benching a couple years ago.

"He put me on the pine for the third period. I was probably turning the puck over big time."

MacTavish said it wasn't that: "He took three bad penalties that night. The first one made me mad, the second made me furious and the third made me throw my hands up in the air and sit him down."

This has been a trip on which there's been little to celebrate other than the play of the kids (eight of them who have played in the minor leagues this year were on the ice last night) in the last two games.

But Smyth's 30th and a three-point night to lead the way was at least something.

"I don't score those gorgeous goals like other guys, so I guess when I get 30, it's a feather in my cap," he said.

As for the contract, he shrugged. "Obviously it's disappointing it's gone on like this. But it is what it is.

"Obviously, there are probably a lot of people talking about it.

"But I just go out and play."

It would be nice if he could celebrate a signing soon.


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