SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers look to solve Blues

Edmonton Oilers Ales Hemsky and St. Louis Blues Carlo Colaiacovo fight for the puck during the...

Edmonton Oilers Ales Hemsky and St. Louis Blues Carlo Colaiacovo fight for the puck during the third period of their NHL hockey game in St. Louis, Missouri, Jan. 19, 2012. (REUTERS/Sarah Conard)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

The St. Louis Blues, and teams like them, have become like 215-pound Rubik’s Cubes to the Edmonton Oilers.

Big and tough to solve.

“St. Louis, Phoenix, Nashville, those are all teams that fall into the same category and we’ve struggled a little bit against them,” said Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff. “They play stingy defence and if you’re going to beat them, they make you beat them 2-1 or 3-2, games that really demand a lot of patience. We need to learn how to play in those games because those are the type of games and those are the type of teams that you’re going to have to beat to get into the playoffs and be successful.”

So far, Edmonton is still trying to get the colours right.

Since falling back to earth after their 8-2-2 start in October, the Oilers are 1-6 against the Blues, Predators and Coyotes. Throw in Minnesota, Calgary and New Jersey and Edmonton has four wins in 19 games.

“These are the teams we have trouble with and a lot of it has to do with the fact they’re so sound defensively,” said Jordan Eberle. “Over the last month we’ve taken some strides in playing better defensively and the addition of Schultzie (Nick Schultz) is going to help a lot. We’re making moves in the right direction.”

Trying to overwhelm a team like St. Louis with high-powered offence is a strategy that will lose more games than it wins. So is trying to beat them at their own game.

The best plan, says head coach Tom Renney, is something in the middle.

“We’re one of those teams that if we get into a high-wire act we can be dangerous, but it’s also living dangerously,” said Renney. “The big thing for us is to certainly take our game to this team, use our speed and attack them, but also have real good balance within that offensive look so we don’t give up the odd man rushes.”

The last time Edmonton played St. Louis, the Oilers were shut out 1-0 and had 15 shots on net.

“We don’t want to lose our speed and our offensive game,” said Jordan Eberle. “Once you lose that and you worry too much about defence, you’re not going to score enough to win games. It’s a matter of doing the right things with the puck and not letting them counter off your mistakes. Turning the puck over at the blueline or having passes intercepted is the kind of stuff that makes us lose our structure and gives them odd-man rushes. If we can get away from that, use our speed to chip it in, get on it and use our cycle game, that’s where it becomes a positive.

“You have to be willing to do the right things instead of trying to make the extraordinary play that’s going to hurt us.”

Getting a lead and forcing teams like St. Louis and Phoenix to open up is like flipping a turtle on it’s back, but it’s a hard flip.

“Maybe one out 10 games you might be able to go out there and score two or three early and force them to open up the game, but until that happens you have to be patient and stingy,” said Horcoff. “Especially against a team where all they want to do is dump the puck in and grind and really wear on your defencemen. You have to do the same thing against them.”

Schultz will make his Oilers debut tonight against the Blues.

“I just want to come in and be consistent, be steady and be reliable,” he said. “It’s a long, tough season and you’ve got to ready to go and perform each and every night and just try to be consistent, bring that work ethic and go out and be reliable for the coaching staff.”

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ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca


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