The more things change ...
New CBA. New economic framework. New balance and parity under a $39-million salary cap. New rules. A whole new era, we're told. Fine. Wonderful. Even if it took 18 months to get here.
The Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche skated into the NHL's new world in front of a capacity crowd at Rexall Place amid the obligatory hype, hoopla and expectation last night.
A LEGITIMATE SHOT
But, for everything that's changed since the Tampa Bay Lightning sipped from the Stanley Cup, all fans who packed the joint wanted to know when the puck hit the freeze for the lid-lifter is if their post-lockout Oilers at long last had a legitimate shot against a Colorado team that's been knocked down a notch or two by that spanking new 600-page CBA.
The answer last night was an emphatic yes, as the Oilers outclassed the Avs for the opening 40 minutes and hung on to prevail 4-3 in a game that was infinitely closer on the scoreboard than on the ice.
You heard right.
"I thought we came out real strong," said Shawn Horcoff, who opened the scoring just 24 seconds into the game and got the winner with less than four minutes to play.
"You can see the depth we have on our team. When we start flowing four lines and the guys are going, we're going to be tough to play against."
Horcoff, who had a three-point night, got the winner at 16:42 on a night David Aebischer was all that kept the Oilers from waltzing away early. Aebischer faced 31 shots, 25 of those in the opening 40 minutes with his team on its heels.
"In the end, we got the two points and that's really all that matters," said Jarret Stoll, who put the Oilers up 3-2 with a wicked one-timer on a power-play on a feed from Horcoff 16:59 into the second period.
"They came back on us a little bit, but I thought for the most part we carried the play, especially in the second."
Without a couple of lucky bounces -- a deflection by Brett Clarke on a sharp-angle shot by Bob Boughner that eluded Ty Conklin and an Antti Laaksonen bank shot off Igor Ulanov's skate to make it 2-2 -- and Aebischer's heroics, the Avs would have been out of this one after 20 minutes.
But, after trailing 3-2 on Stoll's blast, the Avs were anything but done when Patrice Brisebois sifted a slapper past Conklin with less than eight minutes to play.
Then came Horcoff, who chipped a backhand past Aebischer on a pass from Radek Dvorak for the winner, and sure looked like the offensive dynamo the Oilers have been lacking in the middle.
"It's the first game, but I came into this season with a lot of confidence," said Horcoff. "When the organization shows confidence in me as a player, that they're going to give me a chance, you have to make the most of it."
CUT DOWN TO SIZE BY THE CBA
Likewise, the Oilers have to make the most of an Avs outfit that's been cut down to size by the new CBA.
"We know they've lost a few key players from their core lineup, but, by and large, they have some great power up front," said Ryan Smyth, who put the Oilers up 2-1 with a seeing-eye deflection six minutes in and had a helper on Stoll's goal.
"You've got to be prepared. If you're not, you're going to get it fed to you. That's how these guys are. If you don't prepare yourself on an individual basis and a team basis, they're going to hurt you."
ULANOV ACTIVATED: Ulanov, who'd been nagged by a sore groin since Sept. 26, was activated from the injured reserve list and was back in the line-up. To make room on the 23-man roster for the big Russian, the Oilers have waived veteran Dan Smith for the purpose of assigning him to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL.
AROUND THE RINK: The Oilers are 13-9-4 in season-openers ... Milan Hejduk, recovering from knee surgery, did not dress for Colorado.