Buckle the seat belts

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Eight games against these guys? Eight games of this?

Bring it on.

If the National Hockey League was trying to light a fire under its game with the new rules and rivalry-based schedule, it's working.

It's pre-season, when it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, only how you play the game, and last night's tilt with the visiting Vancouver Canucks brought down the house.

Nine goals, five fights, 70 shots, overtime, a shootout and a level of intensity and emotion than you never would have seen in a pre-season game in a hundred years.

"That's exciting hockey," said Edmonton captain Jason Smith, after the Oilers came back from two goals down in the third period to win a testy, 5-4 thriller in the shootout.

"I think the fans like the crashing and banging as much as they like the goal scoring."

There was more than enough to go around.

Smith got the Oilers going by getting into a scrap with Vancouver counterpart Ed Jovanovski, then Brad Winchester, who had a pair of tussles, ignited the contest by knocking Sven Butenschon into the middle of next week with an open ice hit behind the net.

DROPPED SMITH

He then dropped Nathan Smith, who came in to retaliate. Steve Staios dropped the mitts and so did Zack Stortini.

Offensively, Ales Hemsky scored twice, Ethan Moreau added a goal and assist and you could hardly hear yourself think when Mike Peca tied it with 2:58 left in regulation.

"We're going to win hockey games on emotion and physical play," said Staios.

"We just followed our leader tonight. Gator led the way and we just followed suit."

That guys like Smith and Staios, whose jobs are carved in stone here, decided to get their hands dirty shouldn't be lost on the rookies, said Moreau.

PRETTY GOOD LESSON

"That's why Gator and Stevie have played over 10 years in the league and that's why Gator is our captain and Stevie is one of our leaders, that's what they do.

"It's a pretty good lesson of what it takes to play in the NHL. Not just the fighting, but what they bring to the game and how they approach it."

With eight games each against Vancouver, Calgary and Colorado this year, and battles scattered all over the schedule, it might be time to buckle the seat belts.

"I'm just excited about getting back playing," shrugged Smith.

"I guess you could ease into it, but you could also test the waters. Even though it's about pre-season it's about getting ready for when we open."

Netminder Ty Conklin got off to another rocky start -- after giving up three goals on the first eight Dallas shots on Sunday, he surrendered three power play goals (all of them soft) on the first 11 shots yesterday. Vancouver's fourth goal wasn't great, either, but he stopped all six Vancouver shooters on the shootout. Radek Dvorak scored on Edmonton's sixth shot for the win.

-- DOH! Yan Stastny made his pre-season debut for the Oilers yesterday, unfortunately, he did so in a sweater that read STATSNY.


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