SUN Hockey Pool

No Tennessee Waltz

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- You could set your watch by the Oilers lately, but you'll probably wind up too late for the playoffs.

Every year, it seems, they follow the same mystifying and frustrating pattern. Quick start, followed by a long swoon that forces them to spend the last half of the season playing a wild game of catch up.

Last year it was a 2-0 start, followed by three wins in their next 14 games. In 2005-06 it was 3-0 to start, followed by a seven-game losing streak.

And here they are again, wasting a 4-0 start with an 0-3-1 run that has them sinking like everyone's investment portfolios.

They're hoping the worst is over, but looking at the schedule ahead, you never know.

"Hopefully it won't happen this year," said Shawn Horcoff, hoping they can right their ship tonight against the Nashville Predators.

"With this team there's been so many ups and downs, and then you have to win 16 of your last 20 to make the playoffs. This year we want to find more consistency; we don't want to win four, then lose three and then lose one in overtime."

Too late, but at 4-3-1, there's still time to fix things before any real damage is done.

"We talked about it in the dressing-room, how we've been in the situation before at the end of the season where we have to make up points," said Horcoff. "It's really hard to go into other people's buildings and try and do that. After Christmas we're going to have a lot more games at home. So if we can survive the first 26 games (18 of which are on the road) we'll be in good shape."

SECRET STARTER: WHO WOULD YOU START IN GOAL TONIGHT?

Mathieu Garon started all four games against Nashville last year, going 0-4 and giving up 19 goals for a 4.84 GAA and .826 save percentage.

Dwayne Roloson, meanwhile, just played Boston to a 0-0 tie before eventually giving up the winner with Edmonton shorthanded in overtime.

You could make the argument that Garon struggles against this team and Roloson appears to be hot right now, so he should start a game the Oilers need to win. But you could also make the argument that if Garon is your guy, he's got to get in there before he gets too cold. He's only played three of Edmonton's last six games.

Tough call. Head coach Craig MacTavish says he's already made it, but isn't telling anyone until today.

"I've made my mind up what I'm going to do but I haven't told them,"he said. "I don't like to give the other team a heads-up who were going to be playing."

SMID ON THE UPSWING: RELE- GATED TO THE PRESS BOX FOR THE FIRST GAMES OF THE SEASON BECAUSE OF A MEDIOCRE TRAINING CAMP, LADISLAV SMID IS TAKING EVERY OPPORTUNITY HE CAN TO TRY AND GET BACK INTO THE COACH'S GOOD BOOKS. HE GOT IN FOR THREE GAMES WHEN STEVE STAIOS HAD TO LEAVE THE TEAM TO ATTEND TO A FAMILY MATTER, AND ONE MORE AFTER JASON STRUDWICK INJURED HIS SHOULDER.

"It's a tough position for me but I'm trying to be ready for every game and hopefully I'm going to get a chance to play next game," said Smid, who feels he's getting better with game time. "For sure. The more time and the more opportunity to play under pressure I get, the more confident I get."

MacTavish says Smid has shown a lot of improvement from camp.

"I don't know whether (Strudwick) will be available, we'll look (today) and see how he is," said the coach. "But it's less of an issue when Laddie plays that well."

LATE HITS: VETERAN BROADCASTER ROD PHILLIPS IS NOT MAKING THE ROAD TRIP BECAUSE OF AN EAR INFECTION THAT WON'T ALLOW HIM TO FLY. BOB STAUFFER WILL BE TAKING HIS PLACE IN THE PLAY-BY-PLAY BOOTH, WITH ROB BROWN DOING THE COLOUR.


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