SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers doing it right

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Opening night. They did it right.

The pre-game ceremonies had just the right touch. They were understated.

The Edmonton Oilers didn't win the Stanley Cup after all. They just made it to Game 7 of the final.

After a 10-minute playoff memory video, which even included a quick clip of Chris Pronger, the Western Conference Championship banner was unveiled.

There was no pomp. No circumstance. Just a spotlight and there it was.

As expected, anthem singer Paul Lorieau thrust his microphone in the air for the crowd to do a playoff deja vu singing O Canada. And that went well.

With a red carpet and pre-game fireworks outside the rink, with likely every tuxedo in town rented for staff and even the Zamboni drivers, there was plenty of atmosphere.

But the 33rd consecutive regular season sellout crowd of 16,839 didn't come to recreate a scene, they came to find out about the 27th NHL edition of their hockey team in a season-opening litmus test.

The Oilers passed the test.

First impressions were first-rate.

OK, it was a little dicey there at first. Jason Smith coughed up a puck in the first 10 seconds. Dwayne Roloson was forced to make his first big save in the second minute. The first power play was a disaster. Norwegian rookie Patrick Thoresen took the first stupid penalty at 9:35 and Jarome Iginla was awarded a penalty shot at 14:13.

'AWESOME' START

But after that ...

"It was awesome," said Petr Sykora who introduced himself with the first two goals of the season.

"You couldn't wish for a better way to start, especially opening against Calgary," said Sykora.

Tell me one of your first impressions watching this team begin a new season was that Raffi Torres had died and gone to heaven to be able to play with Ales Hemsky and Sykora. And, with the way he can fire the puck for them, he looks like he's going to be a great fit.

Sykora had a chance for the first hat-trick of his career late in the game but passed for Ales Hemsky, who started the season with a great game - creating the first goal by going to the net like he finally found himself doing late in the season and in the playoffs.

In fact, that's what was great about the way the Oilers opened. They won, against the toughest team in the league for them to beat, the way they won in the playoffs last year.

"We did a great job penalty killing," said Dwayne Roloson, who stopped his first 28 shots including Iginla's penalty shot.

"We were a little nervous at the start, then we settled down and played a great game. We played well defensively and capitalized on offence," said Roloson.

"Our special teams were the difference," said Shawn Horcoff.

"Our penalty killing was the way we played the last part of the regular season and the whole way though the playoffs.

"We need to play a little bit tighter on defence, but we didn't give them any easy chances. Every line did what it was supposed to do. The young guys played pretty well.

"And we got the win. It was important to get the win. In the last few years this team has dominated us."

A coach doesn't really want to tell his team that they got it right, right off the bat. But Craig MacTavish didn't have much choice.

NOT TOO MANY FLAWS

"It was fine," he said.

"For the first night it was a pretty good effort by pretty much everybody. The young guys played well. I saw most of the things I was expecting. There was a lot of speed, offence and skill and to see that is no small measure against a team like Calgary.

"Both Ladislav Smid and Patrick Thoresen played well for their first NHL game.

"Petr Sykora ... I don't know if I've seen as an intelligent players as he is.

"I couldn't pick out too many flaws out there."


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