SUN Hockey Pool

Having fits over starts

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:59 PM ET

The problem was that the Edmonton Oilers just couldn't take the crowd out of the game.

That's the way it works when you play the Toronto Maple Leafs in Edmonton on Hockey Day in Canada.

Craig MacTavish doesn't think it'll be a problem which lasts forever.

"As the new generations go on, it's less and less a factor. Loyalty and good sense is getting bred into future generations and getting eliminated from transplanted Ontarians who came out here to get work.

"But it's still a well-kept secret in Fort McMurray, in the Newfoundland community, that the NHL has expanded to Edmonton. They're still wearing Dave Keon sweaters up there.''

Breeding aside, with 25% of the crowd wearing Toronto sweaters and maybe 50% cheering for the Leafs, you want to impose your will on the game early.

You may have noticed. The Oilers aren't particular proficient at doing that.

In fact, there's something seriously wrong with this hockey team when it comes to first periods and home games.

Against Montreal, where it is also necessary to take the crowd out of the game at home, the Oilers were down 3-1 early before coming back to win.

Here last night they were down 2-0 early and 3-1 late. And this time they didn't pull it out going against great goaltending from Mikael Tellqvist.

In Toronto they'll be writing this game about a Leaf goalie playing out of his skin to win a game. Edmonton writers don't remember how to write that story about an Oiler goalie.

Edmonton outshot Toronto 15-6 in the first period and were down 2-0.

The Oilers have been outscored 48-36 in first periods yet outshot teams 407 to 373 in the initial stanza.

MacTavish said getting outshot 15-6 and being down 2-0 is at least a different number.

"It's usually being outshot 9-4 and being down 2-0. That's happened a few times.''

Players are having trouble dancing around it game after game - even after one where their goaltending wasn't terrible.

The first three Toronto goals still did come on 13 shots.

"We did everything we wanted to do,'' said Ethan Moreau. "We played exactly the way we wanted to play in the first period. We pressured them. We came out with jump and played our system. And we're down 2-0. We were ready to play.''

The Oilers are 3-8-2 when they're down after the first period. They're 13-5-0 when tied after one. And they're 13-1-0 when they lead after one.

If this team could win first periods, even tie them, think where they'd be in the standings?

And it's about those standings.

With the loss, the Oilers drop to 11-7-2 at home. That sounds decent. But it isn't, really. The real record in terms of wins-ties-losses in regulation time is 7-7-6 with two bonus points for overtime wins and two more bonus points for shootout wins.

The standings lie. They're an illusion. Only three teams of the 15 in the West have losing records. 'Nuff said.

The plain truth is that this Oilers team hasn't been successful so far this season at home and the big reason for it is not getting good starts to games.

"When we score first, especially at home, we're a tough team to play,'' said Shawn Horcoff. "Teams get frustrated and make mistakes and we feed off turnovers.''

It worked the other way last night.

"We played by and large a terrific hockey game and ended up on the wrong side of a game we should be winning,'' said MacTavish.

While this one may not have fit the mould quite like the others, with MacTavish not having to play Captain Hook with his goalie, the fact is that Edmonton outshot Toronto 38-19 and lost another game because someone else had better goaltending than they did.

The good news is that MacTavish isn't going to have to worry about having to take the crowd out of a home game until 2008-2009.

Maybe by then more of the Leaf disease will have been bred out by loyalty and good sense. Especially if they get a goalie.


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