Thanks to a winning record last month, the Edmonton Oilers moved themselves into the thick of the postseason chase.
The Oilers will be trying to carry that success into the February portion of their schedule, which opens Sunday against the visiting Nashville Predators.
Edmonton (25-20-3) sat outside the playoff mix entering its first game of January, as it was tied with Dallas and Nashville (21-24-3) for 11th in the Western Conference. But the Oilers put together an 8-4-0 mark during the month, and are currently battling for one of the conference’s final four playoff spots.
They picked up their fourth win in five contests overall on Friday night, 3-1 over Minnesota to rebound from Tuesday’s 10-2 defeat to Buffalo - the worst home loss in franchise history.
“We really came out and battled,” said Dwayne Roloson, who made 29 saves for the fifth win in his last seven starts. “We bounced back from a game that we can hopefully all forget about now. We played a full 60 minutes (Friday), probably one of our best games that we have played all year.”
Ales Hemsky scored his team-high 15th goal to raise his team-leading point total to 42. He has five goals and two assists in four contests since returning from a 10-game absence due to a concussion.
Hemsky was held off of the scoresheet in these teams’ latest meeting, but the Oilers won 5-2 at Rexall Place on Dec. 28. The Predators had outscored Edmonton 38-17 in winning the previous nine games in the series, including a 3-1 victory at Nashville in the only other matchup this season.
While the Oilers made strides to return to the playoff hunt in January, the Predators fell further in the standings with eight losses in 12 games to slip to 14th in the West - just ahead of last-place St. Louis.
A lack of scoring has been partly to blame for Nashville’s struggles, as its 117 total goals are the fewest in the conference.
The Predators returned from the All-Star break with Wednesday’s 5-3 win at Vancouver, then fell 3-1 at Calgary on Friday in the second stop of their three-game trip through western Canada.
Nasvhille, which lost for the fourth time in five games, didn’t get on the board until J.P. Dumont’s 10th goal 7:57 into the third period. The Predators outshot the Flames 24-17 over the final two periods after being outshot 15-5 in the first.
“The first 30 minutes we were not very good at all,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “Then in the last 30 minutes I thought we were much better.”
Another bright spot for Trotz’s club was its penalty killing. Nashville turned aside six of seven attempts Friday, and has limited opponents to six power-play goals in 74 chances over the last 20 games.
The Predators have killed off 35 of the Oilers’ 40 man-advantage opportunities in the previous 10 meetings.
Dumont leads Nashville with 26 assists and 36 points, and has four goals and 11 assists in his last 11 games versus Edmonton.
Captain Jason Arnott, meanwhile, has eight goals and 12 assists in 24 games against his former team. Arnott spent his first 4 1/2 NHL seasons with the Oilers from 1993-98.
Edmonton is likely to have Roloson in net Sunday. He boasts a 2.53 goals-against average in winning eight of his last 11 home starts, but is 3-11-0 with a 3.49 GAA in 16 career matchups with the Predators.