Oilers finding successful matchups

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:25 PM ET

ST. LOUIS - Opposites are attracting success on the Edmonton blueline this trip.

They’ve got Lubomir Visnovsky, who’s sixth in scoring among NHL defencemen, paired with Ladislav Smid, who scores about once every three seasons, and it’s working great.

Then there’s Tom Gilbert, not exactly the most physical player in the league, teaming up with Sheldon Souray, who’s never met a face he didn’t punch - at least not any face that gets too close to Edmonton’s crease.

That pairing is also paying dividends - for the Oilers and for a resurgent Gilbert.

“He makes you a better player,” Gilbert said of Souray. “My game is jumped up tenfold. I’m seeing the ice better, moving it better, playing better defensively. Bounces seem to be going my way.

“Obviously, playing with a guy like Shelly, who brings a lot of physicality, makes playing the D zone a lot easier. It’s a good partnership right now.”

Gilbert was a nervous wreck not that long ago, an accident waiting to happen out there, which is why head coach Pat Quinn was so reluctant to put him out there.

He went minus five during a six game stretch, got benched against Colorado and had his minutes back into the mid teens until Quinn regained some confidence in the 26-year-old defender... which he has.

“His overall play has picked up,” said Quinn. “I told him I don’t care if you get the points, what you want is your defencemen to play defence first. He’s playing good defence right now which I like a lot.”

Gilbert is back up in the 21 minutes per game range (24:46 in Dallas) and is plus three in his last six outings. He was on the ice for all three Edmonton goals in Tampa and on the ice in the last minute when the Oilers were trying to preserve the 3-2 win.

“I heard lots about Tom being a better player than what we saw earlier on,” said Quinn. “He’s playing with some assertiveness. It looked like he was afraid to make mistakes, and when you’re afraid to make mistakes you get hesitant.

“Now he’s doing things with an assertive demeanor and it makes all the difference.”

For most skill players, slumps are something entirely foreign. They’re so used to being at the top that many of them don’t know how to handle adversity. Gilbert will be the first to tell you he had the jitters.

“It was a new experience. Everybody is going to go through struggles in their career, it’s just a matter of working through it. It’s amazing what the mental part of the game can do for you.

“I want to be that guy that they can rely on ...if you’re under pressure and the guy’s coming around and you have a split second to make a play I want to be the guy they can rely on to make that play.

“Right now I have the confidence to make those plays.”


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