SUN Hockey Pool

Avoiding usual letdown

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

They've been on the road for two weeks, only to return to host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That can, itself, feel like a road game, considering all the die-hard Leafs fans who traditionally pull their blue and white jerseys out of the closet, dust them off, and show up not afraid to wear them in public for a change.

But that's not the pressing concern for the Edmonton Oilers. Their biggest worry is trying to avoid a letdown at home which inexplicably always follows an extended road trip.

"Any time coming off a road trip, that first period, for some reason, nobody has been able to put their finger on it, there's a lull," said Oilers defenceman Steve Staios. "But we're going to do our best to try and get ourselves prepared. There is always that little drop-off. It seems to be early in a game after a road trip.

"We're aware of it, and we're going to do our best to prepare and get jacked up for what should be a good game."

It's been a while since Maple Leaf fans have been able to show up at Rexall Place en masse.

The Oilers haven't hosted the Leafs since Jan 7, 2006, losing 3-2 that evening.

The Oilers are going into the game off a successful seven game road trip, salvaged by a pair of gutsy victories over the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders.

"I think what we got out of that trip is that we played some pretty good hockey," Staios said. "But we also learned some lessons on what we need to do as a group to win.

"I think it was a good step forward for us and we got through a tough part of the schedule and now we're looking forward to getting our game to another level."

STILL IN THE THICK OF IT

Having played 12 of their first 15 games on the road, the Oilers could have easily found themselves a good distance from the pack in the Northwest Division standings.

No other team in the NHL has played as many games away from home as the Oilers and only the Detroit Red Wings had accumulated more points on the road heading into last night's play around the league. Yet they're still in the mix, two points back of first place Calgary.

"You have to try and keep your game simple in the first period when you come home," said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau.

"It's always a tough period to get through, it's always a tough game to get through. That's just the way it is when you're going through a lot of time zones - it's hard to get your body back into game form when you travel that much.

"There isn't really a lot you can do. You just have to prepare yourself because the first period could be a tough period."

Having two days between games helps.

LEAFS IN MIDDLE OF TRIP

The Leafs, meanwhile, will be playing their second of a three-game west road trip that started with a 4-3 loss in Calgary yesterday and concludes in Vancouver on Saturday.

Including tonight's contest, the Oilers will play a pair at Rexall Place before heading out on the road again for a two-game set starting in Detroit on Monday.

"The encouraging thing about the road trip is that we were playing better as it wore on," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"The Columbus game left a little bit of a bruise the way we lost that one. But sometimes those games have a way of focusing you in as a team in what you need to do better and we're playing quite a bit better than we were at the start.

"But we have to continue to play real well at home and try to make up some games, certainly play well above .500."


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