SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers look for win over basement rivals

Oilers forward Taylor Hall gets tripped by Kings forward Trevor Lewis (right) and defenceman Matt...

Oilers forward Taylor Hall gets tripped by Kings forward Trevor Lewis (right) and defenceman Matt Greene at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., Jan. 15, 2012. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:50 PM ET

EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers left town Monday feeling good about themselves after clawing out a 2-1 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings the night before.

Now they're looking to build off the victory as they venture out to face the basement-dwelling Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday and the St. Louis Blues Thursday.

It’s been a while since the Oilers actually won a pair of games in a row, and they’re eager to put back-to-back wins together.

“We are,” said Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff. “Hopefully we can get some momentum from that and try to build on it. We feel like outside of our game (Friday) we’ve played some pretty good games.

“We felt if we stayed with that and we stayed consistent, we would be able to pull out some wins. We needed to tighten up our game defensively a little bit and we did a good job of that (Sunday) and just be patient.”

If the Oilers are going to win two straight for the first time since Nov. 25, Columbus would be the place to do it. Like the Oilers, the Blue Jackets’ offence has struggled in five-on-five situations. And and their special teams are near the bottom of the league.

The Oilers, on the other hand, have the second-highest ranked power play in the league, scoring on 21.8% of their opportunities this season. That number would have been even higher if they had scored their opening goal against the Kings a second earlier.

Regardless, power-play production has been one of the few constants for the Oilers this season. Only the Vancouver Canucks have been more efficient with the man-advantage this year.

“It’s a mentality,” Horcoff said. “With the system, we’ve done a real good job and it’s also personnel, we’ve got depth this year. We have two units that can score and in the past it’s been tough to find 10 guys that are used to playing together.

“It’s not all about the skill guys, either. This year I think we’ve been a hell of a lot more grittier, too, a lot more aggressive in their zone and we try to get more pucks to the net. When we do get more pucks to the net, we want to get there with traffic and just outbattle them, and we’ve been able to do that.”

Surprisingly, the Oilers have been able to continue to score on the power play despite missing key components such as Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tom Gilbert.

On Sunday Josh Green scored what for all intents and purposes could be considered a power-play goal, tipping the puck past goaltender Jonathan Quick as the penalty-box attendant was opening the gate for Dustin Brown.

“The way it’s set up, we have some big shots from the point and other teams have to respect that,” said Green. “It kind of opens up things a little bit more for our skilled guys to be creative with the puck and make plays. We have a lot of those guys on this team that can handle the puck and get the puck to the open guy.”

The Oilers' second goal in the contest came on a power play in overtime, as Justin Williams was whistled for getting his stick up on defenceman Theo Peckham.

With more room on the ice to operate with, Horcoff was able to take a rebound and make a great, blind, behind-the-back pass to Taylor Hall for the winner.

“Our goal on the power play is to get pucks to the net, win battles in front and create some chaos and score goals that way,” Horcoff said. “For some reason, four-on-three at times can be harder to defend than a five-on-three and I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if it’s the one extra guy that opens up a lot more space and at times it can be difficult.

“We wanted to create some extra movement with Sam (Gagner) and I switching on top and it was a matter of being patient that opened things up for us.”

With the power play being so effective, it’s hard to believe the Oilers are once again near the bottom of the conference standings.

That just accentuates how much the team has struggled to create offence at even strength this season.

“Until we start scoring more goals five-on-five, the secret for us is to win those special-teams battles,” Horcoff said. “We haven’t been scoring a lot five-on-five and that’s been hurting us, so for the last two weeks or so we’ve been trying to tighten up our defensive game.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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