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New year's resolution

The Edmonton Oilers celebrate after defeating the Detroit Red Wings in their first-round NHL...

The Edmonton Oilers celebrate after defeating the Detroit Red Wings in their first-round NHL playoff series last May. The Oilers are feeling better entering this season than they did last year. (Edmonton Sun File/Darryl Dyck)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

It's something you can read in the room, feel in the air and see in the body language.

The Edmonton Oilers came off the ice after their first practice as a regular-season entity yesterday as a club with a calm confidence and an anticipation that stops short of excitement but leans more to a desire to get on with it - to test what they think they see in themselves.

"That's it. That's it exactly," said Shawn Horcoff.

It's not the excitement of a group coming out of a lockout with a new collective bargaining agreement to level the playing field that allowed the additions of Chris Pronger and Michael Peca.

It's a team that likes themselves as a team more than they did with Pronger and Peca.

MACT AGREES

That might surprise a lot of people. But that's it. That's exactly it.

"I know that's the way it is with me. I think we're better to start a season than we've been since I've been here," said Horcoff.

Coach Craig MacTavish agrees.

"Right now the feeling is good that we are where we want to be to start.

"It looks better to me than at the start of last year in a lot of respects. I'm trying to be careful not to be too optimistic."

Six seasons into his head coaching career, he'd never thrown out that quote before.

"There's definitely a confidence level there," said MacTavish. "We've got the feeling we've got a good team. I think the players feel that. I do."

Everybody is a worldbeater at the start of a new season. But because this is a team that made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final after finishing eighth in the conference, and because they're coming back more an offensive team than a defensive team, everybody involved has been making a study of it.

"The players expectations in ourselves are different. We see ourselves winning the division," said Steve Staios.

"I know I do. I like our team. I really do.

"The difference is in the experience and the expectations. There's no hangover here. This is definitely a group where you look around and can see how bad everybody wants to get back there again.

"The dynamics are totally different because we don't have a horse who is going to play 30 minutes back there. But we have the best young forwards in the game. That's hard to argue.

"And the core leadership is there. That's really big," said Staios.

"We're deeper. Period," said Horcoff.

"I think we're going to start this season with three different lines that are all thinking 'If our line is consistent for 82 games, we can win.' If the other lines do that too, it's going to be fun to see what we can do.

"This year we have a similar situation on defence that we did last year on offence. It's allowing some guys to move up and prove themselves. And if they aren't able to do that, fine. Kevin Lowe has proved that if they're not producing, he can go out and get somebody who can.

"And we feel we have the goaltending now. It's tough to play when you don't have full confidence back there."

'SLAGGING THE D'

Ryan Smyth laughs about that.

"The difference between starting this season is that last year the media was questioning goaltending and offence. This year the media is slagging the defence."

But Smyth said the real big difference is having has success together.

"More than anything, it's the experience we gained in that playoff drive. That is something pretty indescribable.

"The guys are pretty confident in each other. That's what makes a team."

Exactly, says Ethan Moreau.

"Now that we've had some success in the playoffs, instead of being a team talking about it but not knowing anything about it, we're a team that's lived it and learned a lot about ourselves as a team and about our teammates. We're a good team. We know we have it here."

Horcoff bottom-lined it.

"Winning breeds winning," he said.


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