SUN Hockey Pool

Stone like a rock

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

DALLAS -- They're 6-2-1 with him.

They're 5-11-3 without him.

Do the math. Ryan Stone is good for the Oilers.

But the 24-year-old winger gets a little sheepish when anyone suggests he's a key to their fortune.

"Not at all," he laughed, trying to snuff out the question before it was asked. "I don't know why it (the difference in records with and without him) is, but I wouldn't say it's because of me."

He sure doesn't hurt, though.

Four assists in nine games isn't going to drop anyone's jaw, but coaches crave smart, hard-working players and Stone is certainly helping satisfy Pat Quinn's season-long hunger pains.

"One thing he has is a brain to play the game," said the Oilers head coach. "That's hard to replace. You have guys who come in with good skill and don't think very well. They're nice to watch sometimes, but guys who can think out there make the right plays more often than not and don't give the other team anything. That's the way he plays. It's a real strength for us.

"He was good for us right from the start. In training camp we said 'This boy is going to play on this team and he's going to help us.' "

He did, grabbing a roster spot and endearing himself to the coaching staff with his grit and hockey sense. But six weeks on IR with an injured knee forced him to start all over again.

First game back, he's plus two with an assist on the game-winning goal in a 4-1 decision that snapped a three-game losing streak.

"I didn't expect that he would be as good coming back into the lineup," said Quinn, who lined him up with Robert Nilsson and Zack Stortini, a combination that looked strange on paper but pretty good on the ice. "He was the real rock around those other two guys on that line.

"He may never get a lot of points, but he's not going to be a guy who beats himself. As I've said a few times, we were a team that early in the going beat ourselves more often than the other team beat us."

The contributions made by Nilsson and Stone, two guys who'd been away on the injured list, gives hope that when the roster returns to health the Oilers can return to respectability.

"You don't want to use an excuse of guys being hurt, but day to day it affects the team, you can't hide from that, it's a fact," said Patrick O'Sullivan. "There's no team in any sport that loses as many guys as we have and doesn't have it affect them. Every game it's different. A guy comes back, another guy gets hurt. You're playing with different linemates, our goalie is out, our best player is out. What do you do?

"You have to battle through that. We started getting guys back and feeling good about ourselves. I think it's a snowball that can go in two different directions and we're starting to push it back the other way."

* O'Sullivan's two goals were his fifth and sixth of the season, fewer than he'd hoped for by this point. As a scoring forward you want your point total way above your minus total, but it was 13 points and minus 11 heading into Detroit.

"That hopefully will help him," said Quinn. "He's fighting the confidence. He was guessing with the puck and guessing with the plays. When you're a guesser out there it's hard to be a good player. It was affecting his defensive play, his whole game was getting out of whack."

This helps a little.

"When you score and your team wins," said O'Sullivan, "You feel good about it."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA

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WHO TO WATCH

KEEP YOUR EYE ON THESE TWO PLAYERS IN TONIGHT'S GAME

ROBERT NILSSON

Scored the nicest goal of the season in his first game back from a concussion. He wants to be the impact player everyone expects him to be and now would be the time to start. With Hemsky out, they need an infusion of skill.

JAMES NEAL

Doing it all for the Stars, this year -- 12 goals, 11 assists, two on the power play, one shorthanded and he adds a physical dimension to boot. The Oilers don,t want him lighting a spark under the Stars at home.


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