Opportunity knocks

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

Sam Gagner, Erik Cole and the Edmonton Oilers got started on their New Year's resolutions a little early last night, blowing up their slumps, along with the Nashville Predators, in a 5-2 victory at Rexall Place.

Gagner's resolution, of course, is to be more like the player who helped carry Edmonton down the stretch last year.

Cole's is to be more like the productive power forward Edmonton traded for last summer.

And Edmonton's, after being pistol whipped by the Predators for the better part of three seasons, was to figure out a way to conquer their Nashville nemesis.

Well, all three got the jump on their promises well in advance of Jan. 1, with Cole and Gagner combining for five points and the Oilers beating Nashville for the first time in 10 tries.

"It's one thing you never want to lose, your confidence," said Gagner, who had a goal and an assist in his best outing of the season. "That was the one thing I was trying to keep in my mind, that I did it last year and I can do it again.

"When you're playing with the extra edge and swagger it definitely helps. I felt it coming on as the game went on and I kept feeling better."

Cole, who felt it coming for the last few games, finally broke through for his first multi-point night as an Oiler. His goal and two assists represent a quarter of his production for the season.

"When you get the opportunities you're going to get the results eventually," he said. "Over the last little while there's been a lot of opportunities to score goals and contribute offensively. It was just a matter of burying the opportunities."

The Oilers were counting heavily on the pair to deliver this season, and when they didn't, the club's fortunes took a deep sag. Yesterday was a look at what the Oilers can be if both of them are going.

The first line scored a goal, Sheldon Souray netted his 11th and then Cole, Andrew Cogliano and Gagner scored three goals in 2:16 midway through the second period to break open a 2-2 tie.

"It was a lot of the things we kind of anticipated at the start of the year," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose club moved into a tie for eighth place with its third straight win. "Lots of skill, lots of puck movement. A pretty good game, one of our better efforts of the year.

"That's the type of game we thought we'd see more of. The one thing that this taught me is that it's never a certainty. The development of your team is never a certainty. It always takes time to get new players into a system. Not everybody is going to be gelling all the time. It has taken a considerable amount of time but we're starting to move in a really positive direction."

Gagner, judging from his jump last night, is on his way back.

"It's just confidence," said MacTavish. "Something right happened for him. Confidence means a lot to veteran players, let alone second-year players. It's encouraging that that line's finding some chemistry, the two of them starting to go.

"If we can get Robert Nilsson joining in offensively it would be a big plus for the team."

Cole and Gagner definitely like the way they seem to click, turning a Slump Line into a Jump Line.

"He's a great kid who comes in and puts in all the work that needs to be done," said Cole. "He's pretty simple to play with, you just have to skate and try to jump into holes. If something's' there he's going to make a great play."

"He's a guy who really skates well and moves his body well," responded Gagner. "He can really back off the D, and I'm a guy who likes to slow the game down. It seems like a good combination so far. Hopefully we can build off of this."


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