NASHVILLE — Heading off to face the Nashville Predators with nothing to lose, the Edmonton Oilers can afford to take a mischievous approach to the contest.
As long as their season has spiraled down the drain, why not ruin someone else’s?
“It’s always fun to pee in someone’s sandbox,” smiled Oilers winger Ryan Jones. “It’s great to go in and take points from teams that really need them. At this point we’re playing for a lot of pride and the character in the room. But at the same time, it’s fun to steal points, knowing that they need them. That’s where we’re at right now.”
At the start of the season, the Oilers were hoping to play in meaningful games towards the end of the year.
And while this may not exactly be what the Oilers had in mind, their game against the Predators on Tuesday means the world to the hosts.
The Predators are currently in the thick of a heated playoff race in the Western Conference and are desperate for points in order to maintain their standing.
The Oilers, meanwhile, have the inside track on the first overall pick again in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.
“What we have to do is go in there as the underdog and pay attention to what we have to do in order to have to success,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “That’s playing it a shift at a time, and not letting them feel too good about their game.”
The strength in the Predators game lies in their system. If the Oilers could somehow emulate the Predators’ system, they would.
However, despite how simple the Nashville Predators game plan sometimes looks, and how interchangeable their parts seem to be, their blueprint for success is hard to replicate.
“Every time we go into Nashville, we wonder how we’re going to beat these guys,” said Renney. “They’ve very systematic, they know how they want to play, they have played that way ever since (head coach) Barry Trotz has been there, which is forever.
“They know the personality they have, they know how they have to play the game and what they have to do in order to win.”
A look down the Predators roster reveals a team devoid of an abundance of star power.
Apart from defenceman Shea Weber and forward Mike Fisher who, outside of Ottawa, is better known for being the husband of a country music singer, there are few members of the Predators that would be recognized outside of the Bridgestone Arena.
“If you look through their lineup, they have a couple of guys that you would consider stars and the rest of the lineup are steady, blue-collar guys,” said Jones, a former Predator himself. “The way that they win games, is that they just work hard. I think that’s how they build an identity. We talk about building an identity and it comes up all the time. If you look at those types of teams, that’s where we want to get to.”
The Predators’ bread and butter lies in their defensive play, their ability to outwait an opponent and maintain a strong positional game that allows them to capitalize on mistakes.
With most of their high-end offence currently in sickbay, it’s a system the Oilers are tying to implement themselves.
“That’s where we’ve kind of gotten to,” Jones said. “We just say we need to simplify the game and not get too far out of our element. The more simple you keep the game, the less you can stretch away from it, the less space there is between guys and you all are more or less on the same page.
“That’s the case with Nashville. Guys always seem to be doing the same thing over and over. They know where everyone is going to be, because they’ve been doing the same thing for however long they’ve been around. It hasn’t changed.”