Energy fuels Oilers

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

What a way to pop the cork.

Not just here. Everywhere.

But especially here where the level ice surface of the new NHL was a wonderful experience for the fans of the former franchise from Smallville which went back to feeling like Gotham on the North Saskatchewan for the first time in 15 years last night.

The scoreboard said it was a 4-3 squeeker over the Colorado Avalanche but that was an esceptionally satisfactory way to begin a new era by the former small market squad.

Shawn Horcoff scored two!

Ty Conklin played well in goal!

The Oilers scored on a power play!

And they didn't give up a goal penalty killing!

Horcoff, Conklin, the power play and the penalty killing were all question marks, not exclamation marks, going into the season.

This was a win with a lot of exclamation marks.

"That was a great way to start," said coach Craig MacTavish.

"Horc set the tone early and that line was exceptional all night. There were a lot of encouraging signs. A lot of guys played very well. Maybe that first goal 34 seconds into the game by Horc was what he was looking for. It silenced a lot of people and their talk about a No. 1 centre."

It was the fastest-ever goal to start a season in Oilers' history, beating Bernie Nicholls's 1992 season-starter by seven seconds. It took Horcoff 10 games to score his first goal last season in the Swedish Elite League before finishing in the top five.

Horcoff said the opening-night atmosphere felt fabulous.

"Oh, that was excellent," said Horcoff. "I barely slept last night. I knew what the fans were going to be like. That was like a playoff game."

He said the crowd deserved an assist.

"That crowd was into it all game. I think they help me score the first one."

Assist? Coach Craig MacTavish gave the fans the goal.

"The atmosphere was incredible in the building. Everybody on our bench was energized. Chalk that first goal up to the fans and Don Metz opening," he said of the excellent pyro, indoor fireworks and video celebration to lead into the first Oiler regular season game in 18 months.

"The towels were flying around and it felt like a playoff game," said Ryan Smyth. "There really was new energy and new excitement."

The Oilers inspired much of it.

"That was so important to get off on the right foot," said Smyth who scored his 199th as an Oiler as the No. 1 line potted three of the four.

The first Oiler penalty of the new NHL didn't come until 18:34 of the first period. The Oilers only took four all night. That says something about the team commitment to the new rules. Like a lot of the lid-lifters in this special night, it wasn't all about one team and two points, it was about two teams and a "four-pointer."

There will be 32 games involving divisional rivals this year and there is no division which appears more competitive than this one with Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Colorado.

And as much as there's uncertainty here with just how the Oilers are going to fare in the new NHL with Chris Pronger and Mike Peca, there's also the question of how the Avalanche are going to do without Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote.

If we can go by what we watched last night the Oilers have a real opportunity here to get out of the gate great. Three of their first eight games are against Colorado. Five times the two teams meet in the first two months of the schedule.

But that's for chewing on in the next few weeks.

This was a one-off.

It was the first time since 1928-29 that every NHL team was in action on opening night. That was so much fun, why not add another lockout legacy to go with the salary cap, the new rules, etc. and make it an annual thing.

And Calgary lost! What more could an Edmonton fan have asked for openers?


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