SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers' Plante keeps it simple

Edmonton Oilers left wing Taylor Hall (C) is checked into Nashville Predators goalie Anders...

Edmonton Oilers left wing Taylor Hall (C) is checked into Nashville Predators goalie Anders Lindback (L) by defenceman Shea Weber during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Nashville, Tennessee November 22, 2011. (REUTERS/M. J. Masotti Jr.)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:30 AM ET

NASHVILLE - Barry Trotz was talking about his own team, but could have very well been describing the importance of Edmonton's road record.

The Oilers have fluctuated between bad and wildly inconsistent on the road Ñ losing four in a row and then whipping the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night Ñ a trend that Trotz describes as fatal if a team wants to make the playoffs.

"I'm a big believer that you have to 40 points on the road and 60 at home to make the playoffs," said Trotz, whose club is heading out for a five-game trip that could very well shape their season. "When you go on the road it can be a real bonding experience or it can be a really negative experience."

And it's those negative ones that often sink a season.

"The parity in the league is incredible, so you don't know what week is going to be a positive week or a negative week," said Trotz. "And that might be the difference from getting in the playoffs or not."

This and that

The Oilers are at the quarter pole of the season and they still have three point-per-game players. Ryan Smyth, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins É Eberle now has eight points in his last three games É Sam Gagner dropped the mitts in the second period with Matt Halischuk É Magnus Paajarvi drew back in after sitting out the Dallas game as a healthy scratch. He's trying to keep his head above water in the NHL and turned in a decent game from the fourth line.

No time to worry

Alex Plante didn't have time to get nervous, which is probably for the best.

After Edmonton got pounded physically in Dallas on Monday, they swapped Taylor Chorney for the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder to beef up for the Predators on Tuesday. He didn't play a ton, but his foot is back in the door at least.

"It's actually kind of nice to just get here on the day of the game, it doesn't give you any chance to over-think it, just come and play how I've been playing in Oklahoma," he said. "I don't want to get crazy and start doing things I don't (normally) do."

Blue-collar country

The Preds, who've never really been blessed with a big budget or a lot of star power up front, have still managed to take their foundation of hard work and grit into the playoffs six times in the last seven years.

There are a lot of high-end programs that wish they had that kind of consistency.

"They have some guys over there who work hard," said Oilers winger Ryan Smyth, who knows a thing or two about rolling up your sleeves. "If they don't work hard on a consistent basis they're not in it. They're well-coached, they stick to their game plan and they play simple."

And smart.

"They're a mature team," added Eberle. "They prey off of turnovers and prey off of you making mistakes."

Weber motors on

If there is a star in the Preds lineup, it's Shea Weber, who'd likely be a multiple Norris Trophy winner if he played in a major market.

"Shea is playing extremely well," said Trotz, who's watched him develop from a rookie, drafted 49th overall in 2003.

"At times when he was younger you'd see a little bit of that inexperience. He's now a dominant player. He's comfortable in his own skin, comfortable being captain of the Nashville Predators and he's comfortable being an elite defenceman in this league.

"It shows with his plus 18. He's playing against the best guys in the league. He's not playing against third and fourth lines, he's playing against everybody's top player every night and he's plus 18. To me that's very dominant."

Tough guy

Opponents are making a point of taking the body on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but he's proving difficult to catch and when they do catch him, he doesn't get scared.

Monday in Dallas he came right back at Brenden Morrow and knocked the Stars captain on his butt.

"I'm not surprised," said Smyth. "It's nice to see that he stands up for himself. He's not a big player but he's very powerful, a powerful skater who sees the ice extremely well."

"He's a resilient kid who certainly has the mental toughness to play at this level," added Renney. "He's got good balance. You don't see him on the ass of his pants too often.

"You saw another kid (Crosby) come back to the NHL who's got the same type of balance. As Nuge gets stronger he'll really be able to protect himself and the puck and really make things happen."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

@SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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