Oilers up to the task

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

As back-to-back road games go, the Edmonton Oilers' swing through California on the weekend is among the toughest.

Not only because in their second game, they were facing the best team in the NHL, who have yet to lose on home ice in regulation this season.

But due to a curfew at the San Jose airport, the Oilers had to fly into Oakland following their contest in Los Angeles, and bus 40 minutes the rest of the way, getting into town just before 2 a.m.

IMPRESSIVE

So to be able to pull out the maximum four points on the trip is an impressive accomplishment.

"We're set up decently now if we play well at home," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "We've survived this start with so many games on the road.

"We came through it above .500, we're a couple of games above .500 on the road and now it's just up to us to play well at home.

"But we have a lot of work to do on our team game before we can say comfortably that we're through this stretch."

The Oilers have played 18 of their first 26 games on the road and now have seven of their next 10 games at Rexall Place starting Thursday against the Florida Panthers. In January they'll play nine of 12 games at home.

If they plan on moving up the Western Conference standings now would be the time to do it.

"It's absolutely huge for us to get four points on this road trip," said Oilers centre Kyle Brodziak, who scored the overtime winner in Saturday's 3-2 victory over the Sharks. "We've played a ton of road games. I think our last home game was a big step for us and we just have to keep the ball rolling. Now we're going to play a lot of games at home and we just have to try and establish a good home game and keep on with this little streak we've got going."

The Oilers had defeated the Dallas Stars 5-2 at home before embarking on their two-game swing through Los Angeles and San Jose.

Only the most optimistic California dreamers would have predicted the Oilers winning both games on the trip.

But they were able to salvage a victory over the Kings after squandering a three-goal, first-period lead, then got another outstanding goaltending performance by Dwayne Roloson in San Jose to knock off the Sharks.

Heading into the contest, the Sharks had a 14-0-1 record on home ice, having won nine straight at the HP Pavilion. They swarmed the Oilers early, outshooting them 16-1 in the first period and finishing with a 43-17 advantage.

"I think the most important stat is the opportunity for shots," said MacTavish. "We missed the net a fair bit early. It was a reflection of the territorial advantage, but you can't get too wrapped up in the shot clock in a game like that. It's hard not to because the game is tied after one period and you feel a lot worse than that when you're looking at the shot clock.

"But it's all about scoring goals, it's not about putting pucks to the net. It's disappointing when you get through a period with one shot obviously. But that's the way we were going to have to win the game, we knew that going in that they were a very strong team that had played well."

The Oilers made the most of their one shot as Ales Hemsky wired the puck over the shoulder of Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who was probably getting stiff waiting for some action.

Under new head coach Todd McLellan, the Sharks have become a team that throws a lot of rubber at the opponent's net. It was the 11th time this season they've managed at least 40 shots in a contest.

The Oilers, conversely, have only registered more than 40 shots once - in the win over the Los Angeles Kings on Friday.

Heading to Wednesday's contest against the Panthers, the focus will be to make the opposition goaltender earn their paycheques.

'GET PUCKS IN THE NET'

"It's been a focus of ours the last few years to get pucks to the net," MacTavish said. "It's amazing how many times you recover those pucks, and you get second chances from it. A lot of times we get looking for the perfect empty-net goal and they're hard to find at this level. You need offence by attrition where you just shoot the puck more."


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