A work in progress

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:01 PM ET

Is it too late to make the nets bigger?

Two goals in regulation time? A 1-1 tie after overtime? Ten shootout attempts before anybody scored?

This is the new NHL?

A sellout crowd of 16,839 came to see a league reborn, a new energy and a whole new game. They left not quite sure what they watched.

It's not that there were any complaints about the entertainment value. The fans were on their feet when Chris Pronger took his shootout attempt and stayed standing until Ryan Smyth won it with his in the fifth round. They went home happy.

But there had to be fans who left the rink saying the Oilers still can't score and 1-for-12 on the power play is hardly a dramatic improvement from the percentage which landed them in 29th place with the man advantage in the 30-team league the last time we had a season. And Darryl Sutter left his top three lines at home and the Oilers were playing the Omaha Knights more than the team which went to Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final the last time we had hockey.

NO WET BLANKET

But despite that, there was no reason to throw a wet blanket on all the excitement in the Heartland of Hockey lately.

"With the capacity crowd and the extra attention this year, I think there's a tendency to forget it's still the first pre-season game,'' said Oilers' coach Craig MacTavish.

"For the first pre-season game, it was pretty damn entertaining. We saw some good goaltending. There had to be 30 to 35 scoring chances. I'm not unhappy with what I watched.''

MacTavish found out a lot of things.

One of them is that the new hockey hero in town has a lot of rust to get rid of from not playing last year. That said, it didn't stop him from playing Pronger for 28:21.

"It was partially because of the penalties, partially because of who were playing and partially because we wanted to win,'' said MacTavish.

As for the power play, MacTavish said the percentage didn't improve instantly but the artistic impression certainly did. It didn't click but you could see a power play there somewhere.

And Robbie Schremp after one rookie game, one intra-squad game and one pre-season game, certainly looks like he was born to play the half boards on an NHL power play.

"One thing I did see was the way Schremp moved the puck, shot the puck and his quickness in passing,'' said MacTavish.

The only knock on Schremp was he didn't seem to be aware that Pronger was back there on the point to be used for all he was worth.

BOTCHED EXPERIMENT

The early experiment with Marc-Andre Bergeron as Pronger's partner was abandoned in mid-game.

"There was not a lot of cohesion there,'' admitted MacTavish. "While Bergy was looking for his game, I was worried Pronger might not find his.''

Pronger admitted he has rust.

"Oh, yeah,'' he said. "Absolutely. When you didn't play last year, there's going to be rust. It'll take a while to get my game back. It's a matter of time.''

Getting used to the new rules adds to it, Pronger said.

"I was a little tentative. I'll get a lot more comfortable with it after a couple more games.''

Pronger also said the power play is going to take a while to gel.

"I thought we were a little too anxious to do something early on. We weren't making them move. It'll come with time and practice. There's going to be a little trial and error, too. But there's a good power play there.''

In the end you have Ryan Smyth with his new contract making his first installment on his earnings by sending the fans home happy with his shootout goal.

"It's great for the fans. It's exciting. Look what it did for them tonight? The crowd went crazy when we sent out Pronger. They went crazy when I scored to win.''

Game One of the new NHL didn't look like much in the summaries. But it didn't look so bad in person.


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