SUN Hockey Pool

Oil looking to tame Wild

The Oilers' Ales Hemsky is slowly turning his season around. (SUN MEDIA/Brendon Dlouhy)

The Oilers' Ales Hemsky is slowly turning his season around. (SUN MEDIA/Brendon Dlouhy)

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Edmonton Oilers have seen enough of the Minnesota Wild to know what it takes to beat them.

Yet it wasn't until their last meeting that they were finally able to execute their game plan.

That has given the Oilers some confidence heading into tonight's encounter with the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

"It helps knowing that we can beat that team if we put our best game out there," said Oilers centre Jarret Stoll. "We're going to need a good start, but more importantly we're going to need to play a full game and not have any lapses - not make any mistakes that hurt us.

"We're going to make mistakes, everyone does during the course of the game, but we have to try and limit those mistakes that can really hurt us."

The Oilers ended a six-game losing streak against the Wild on Oct. 25 with a 5-4 shootout victory at Rexall Place.

In that game the Oilers were able to score first - one of the biggest keys to beating the Wild.

Despite relinquishing that lead on a couple of occasions, the Oilers were never forced to play from behind, allowing Minnesota to implement their stifling defensive system.

"It's still a 60-minute game," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "But the percentages still are what they are. The math very seldom portrays an inaccurate picture.

"The percentages are incredible when you score the first goal and that's our plan, to go in and score the first goal. But we're not going to give up any hope of winning a hockey game if we don't. There's lots of opportunity to come back in today's game as well and you want to play a good 60-minute hockey game."

Perhaps scoring the first goal might be asking a lot of the Oilers tonight. Just scoring a goal on the road against the Wild would be an improvement.

The Oilers have not scored in their last three visits to St. Paul and they only have three goals in their last five games here.

"I thought our last game in here was a pretty even game," MacTavish said. "They got the break on the one that went through Roli and (Brent) Burns bombed one from the point on a seeing-eye pass from behind the net.

"He unloaded it in a perfect spot and we never got any breaks in that nature in the hockey game. But other than that, I thought it was a pretty even game. We're more banged-up going into this game than we were in that other game, but the bottom line for me is that I don't care what your personnel is, if you go in and play the perfect game, you win."

Offensively, things have been bleak, as the Oilers have scored only 31 goals all season. Only the Phoenix Coyotes and New York Rangers have less.

Offensive production lately has been limited to the top line. MacTavish is happy with the play of Raffi Torres, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

After that, however, it's been dropping off in all areas.

"Ultimately you need some sort of offence from those other guys," MacTavish said. "They're not even getting chances, outside of faceoff plays. We need some offence from them and it's a two-pronged problem when they're getting scored against also."

The problems have been compounded by the Oilers' lack of physical play and their injuries on the blue-line.

"It comes down to three things," MacTavish said. "You have to play good defence, you have to provide offence or you have to be tough.

"There are games where you're not going to do any of those three things, but you can't do it for a prolonged stretch and that's what we're seeing out of those guys. They're not giving us much physical play, not much offensive play and are getting scored against."


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