SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers face streaky Islanders

DEREK VAN DIEST,QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:23 PM ET

A quick look at the standings would suggest the New York Islanders are just what the Edmonton Oilers need to snap out of a losing skid.

Yet, despite being a point back of the Oilers near the bottom of the NHL standings, the Islanders are heading into Thursday’s contest as one of the hottest teams in the league, on a three-game win streak with victories in seven of their last 10.

“I think what’s happened there is what we had going here for a while, which is that they have nothing to lose,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “They’re just trying to outwork their opponents and letting their system play protect them.

“They’ve started to have some success doing that. Obviously the coaching change catches everybody’s attention because (as a player) you feel some responsibility for that and I think now they’re working hard.”

New coach

The Islanders are playing close to .500 hockey (8-9-3) under new head coach Jack Capuano, who replaced Scott Gordon six weeks into the season.

Under Gordon, the Islanders got off to a 4-10-3 mark and were languishing at the bottom of the standings.

“When I was in New York, I thought Scott’s teams always worked hard,” said Renney. “But you have to be smart about it.

“I think right now they’re a team that’s working hard, they trust their system and they play it. They had a heck of a game the other night in Calgary. In the first period, they were just OK, but then Calgary didn’t know what hit them. They are a smart team.”

The Islanders have been off since beating the Calgary Flames 5-2 on Monday. They travelled to Banff on Tuesday for a little bonding time before practising in Calgary Wednesday.

Thursday’s game against the Oilers is the third of a five-game trip for the Islanders, who started it with an overtime win in Detroit and round it off in Colorado and Chicago.

“They’re playing well as of late and I don’t think you can look at standings in this league and come to any conclusions,” said Oilers centre Sam Gagner. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence and it’s definitely going to be a tough test for us.

“But I don’t think we can really worry about them too much, we know what’s been going on here and we know what makes us successful, so we have to go out there and play and not worry about outcomes and results and just have fun with it and enjoy it. If we can do that, hopefully we can come out with a win.”

The Oilers head into Thursday having lost seven straight. Their last victory came against the Columbus Blue Jackets in mid-December.

Since then, they’ve lost five one-goal games and a pair of two-goal contests.

“I don’t think we’re not playing good hockey, I just think we need to play a little better in those five, 10, 15 minutes when we need to pull a game out, where we’re losing by a goal here or there,” said Oilers forward Gilbert Brule.

“I think when we do get that first win, we’ll be able to get the ball rolling and we’ll get a bunch of wins.

“We’re in a bit of a rut and it’s always tough to get out of those ruts.”

Run with big dogs

The Oilers have shown they are capable of playing with the best teams in the league, being able to take the play, at times, to the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and Red Wings during this current losing skid.

It’s just a matter of believing they can play that way against the league’s elite on a consistent basis.

“We were so respectful of the Wings (Tuesday) night that we had one foot on the gas and one on the brake, because we weren’t sure,” said Renney.

“We have to be sure, be decisive and we’re good with that. Indecisiveness is a killer.

“We’re almost like that on the road and we’re not that way here. We don’t want to make any mistakes here, but we do because we’re tentative.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiest


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