SUN Hockey Pool

Seeing the light

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

The goaltending has been exceptional, the fourth line is starting to make a difference, and Erik Cole is a bounce or two away from a scoring streak.

Going into their game tonight against the Nashville Predators, (6 p.m.) at Rexall Place, the Edmonton Oilers are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully for them, it's not an on-coming train.

'MORE CONFIDENCE'

"In the last few games now, I think we're starting to do things a lot better," said Oilers forward Kyle Brodziak. "Guys are starting to play with a little more confidence now and we're starting to do a lot more of the little things right."

Having hovered around the .500 mark for most of the season, the Oilers' modest two-game win streak has them heading in the right direction above the break-even point going into the new year.

A pair of wins before then, would put them in a solid position come January, when they play nine of 12 games at home.

"It's interesting when you get your goalie playing at the level that he's playing at right now, what an incredible impact it has on the rest of the team," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "It affords you that opportunity to make a mistake that you're not going to look at the next day or be reading about for the next couple of days.

"Then all of sudden, you get a break and you turn what could have been a very negative situation into a positive situation, and that's a good breeding ground of confidence. It's a good place to find your confidence."

Roloson has only one regulation loss in his last seven starts in goal for the Oilers and his .920 save percentage ranks him 11th among league leaders. Against the Canucks, he was the main reason the Oilers were able hang on for the victory, having been outshot 14-3 in the third period.

Yet it hasn't been all goaltending.

Cole is starting to find his stride in Edmonton after seemingly skating in circles through the first quarter of the season. The speedy winger has created more opportunities in the last three games than he's had through any other stretch this season.

Had it not been for a pair of goal posts and the toe of Canucks goaltender Curtis Sanford, Cole would have more than just one goal to show for all his effort.

The fourth line is also starting to make a difference with the resurgence of Zack Stortini and the addition of Jason Strudwick.

"At this point, in a lot of ways they're maybe not one of our most effective lines, but they're maybe one of our most reliable lines," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "It's a great example and a great template for everybody to see just the commitment to fighting the tough battles in the tough areas, whether it's just inside your blue line or just outside their blue lines, they're very impactful battles.

"You're not going to win them all, but you can sure tell if a guy is 100% committed to it."

Earlier in the season the Oilers may have been guilty of trying to rely too much on their improved skill level throughout the lineup.

A number of players have been called out for not competing hard enough and not being willing to go into the tough areas of the rink.

9-2 POUNDING

Such hasn't been the case recently, with the exception of the 9-2 pounding at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, where the wheels completely fell off.

In Vancouver, the Oilers outworked the Canucks for the better part of two periods, building a 3-0 lead.

"That's what we wanted to do going into the game," Brodziak said. "I thought we played smart right from the get-go, we played with a lot of energy and we were taking pucks to the net and winning battles."

Going up against a Predators team that has won the last nine games between the two sides, the Oilers will need to take a similar approach. "We haven't beat them in a while. It's going to be a good test for us," Brodziak said.

'A BIG WIN'

"They're coming in off a big win (Friday). We just have to try and keep it rolling. We know they're going to come in with a lot of energy, they're a team that plays really hard. We just have to keep playing the way we've been playing the last couple of games and we should be alright."


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