Oilers will need to match Preds patience

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:19 PM ET

There's not a lot of glitz and glamour when it comes to the Nashville Predators, but seemingly every year, they're able to get themselves into the mix.

Heading into Sunday's contest against the Edmonton Oilers, the Predators sit second in the NHL Central Division standings behind the Detroit Red Wings.

Prior to Saturday night's games around the league, they were fourth in the conference standings, primed to make the playoff for the sixth time in the last seven years.

"You can tell there is continuity there," said Oilers associate coach Ralph Krueger. "You can tell the players that have been brought in, have been brought in under (head coach) Barry Trotz's eye and play under his system.

"They're extremely efficient in what they do. They don't give you a lot. Any breakdown, any little mistake, they exploit them and then go back into their strong defensive system. It's a prototype for the way things need to go here in Edmonton. They're fun to watch as a coach. You respect the process. We think we can beat them, but they do trust their system a lot."

Trotz is the only coach the Predators have ever known.

Hired by the team prior to their expansion season in 1998, the native of Dauphin, Man., has managed to ice a competitive side through the clubs documented fiscal problems and modest payroll.

Last season, Trotz was a finalist for the Jack Adams award as the league's top coach.

"I think they're very good on their systems, they're well-coached," said Oilers centre Colin Fraser. "Trotz has been there for many years and he gets his team to play the same way every night. It doesn't matter who they have in the lineup, they stick to their system. They're very defensively sound, they capitalize on mistakes and they're very patient. They're kind of like Minnesota, they're hard to play against.

"We can't turn the puck over, that's what they're looking for. We have to stay patient as well, and not try to force the issue."

Led by defenceman Shea Weber and backstopped by goaltender Pekka Rinne, the Predators have one of the stingiest defences in the league, conceding an average of just over two goals per game. They are also one of the hottest teams in the league, having won nine of their last 11 encounters.

"They seem to do everything the right way, they have a system that they play and they don't seem to get out of it very much," said Oilers centre Sam Gagner. "They have some good puck-moving defencemen that get the puck up to the forwards and let them play with some skill.

"They're one of those teams that we can identify with and have to try to overcome. I think if we play within our system and our way every night, then we can be a good team as well. It'll be a good test for us and hopefully we can build off it."

Sunday's game will be the first of four between the teams this season.

Last year the Predators were able to win three of the four encounters between the sides. They're coming into the contest against the Oilers having soundly defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-1 in Denver on Tuesday.

"They definitely play hard," said Fraser. "They play simple hockey, they're not a run-and-gun team. If you try to run and gun with them, they'll pick you apart. So we have to be patient with them and be willing to play a low-scoring, tight-checking game."

Weber currently leads the Predators with 29 points on the season, but their scoring is usually done by committee, with eight players having collected 20 points or better this year.

"They're a team that has good character players and good two-way players," Krueger said. "If you don't match their patience, you get into trouble with them. Against Colorado, they had one chance in the first period and they scored.

"We have to be really strong defensively and wait for our opportunities. Just like everybody else, they'll give us a chance here and there and we have to try to make the most of them."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiesT


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