Oilers aim to lose welcome mat

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:21 PM ET

Is this the year the Edmonton Oilers finally dust off the Not Welcome mat?

And if so, how long will it take them to find it under all those steaming piles of frustration in their back yard?

It used to be that visiting teams hating coming to Edmonton not just because of the foul weather and moribund downtown core, but because the Oilers would make their stay here a living L.

Teams called the Edmonton-Calgary swing Death Valley for a reason.

But over the past few seasons the Oilers couldn’t have been more gracious hosts if they tried, which, given some of the losses, was up for debate some nights. They did everything but pour the other guys a drink and give them control of the remote.

Last year they were 30th in the NHL at home. Two years ago they were 25th, winning more games on the road, 20, than in Edmonton, 18. And three seasons ago, a year when they shot par on the road (.500), their 17 regulation losses at home were sixth worst in the NHL.

This year, one of the club’s primary objectives (aside from improving in the faceoff circle, resolving the Sheldon Souray situation and ridding themselves of three three-goalie system) is to finally get their house in order.

“When I was in Minnesota Jacques Lemaire used to always harp on us that you have to win 70% of the time at home and 50% of the time on the road,” said defenceman Kurtis Foster, adding there’s no reason the Oilers, with the fans they have here, shouldn’t be hitting that mark. “I found over the years as a visitor that with the crowd and the atmosphere here in the building, it can be a really tough place to play.”

It has been so far. The Oilers are 2-0 at home and preparing for one of the few opponents they’ve managed to dominate at Rexall Place. While Edmonton is winless in their last 14 at Minnesota, they’re 8-2 against the Wild in their last 10 at home.

“When I was with Minnesota we had that quiet confidence that we’d always do well at home against the Oilers,” said Foster. “But in the same respect, we always knew that coming into Edmonton was going to be a tough trip. We have to make sure they know it’s going to be as tough for them in our building as it is for us in their building.”

The Oilers accomplished as much in the home opener against Calgary, outshooting the Flames 19-9 in the first period, and despite a slow start in their next home game, they still jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the second period against Florida.

“That’s the way home ice is supposed to be, you’re supposed to have that advantage,” said Tom Gilbert. “You know the ice, you know the bounces, the fans are with you, the other team has the travelling issue. And once we start getting momentum, once we start winning a couple of games at home, the atmosphere here is awesome.”

There are few around the league who will argue that when Edmonton fans are on their game they’re as good as any in the league. All they need is half a reason to get excited.

“If you get a little momentum, the crowd here is really into it, they go nuts,” said Ryan Whitney. “That can make all the difference, They can actually cause mistakes for other teams, kind of get in their head.

“It makes teams a little leery about coming here, they’re not as confident, they know it’s going to be a tough place to play. So the biggest thing is you want to make the first 10 minutes really tough on them, make them weather a storm. You want them to be on their heels for the first 10 minutes in your rink, that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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