SUN Hockey Pool

Willing combatants

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

When push came to shove, the Edmonton Oilers punched first and asked questions later.

With concerns about team toughness hanging over camp, the Oilers responded yesterday with five fights in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers.

"That's one thing we tried to address from last year, the toughness part of the game," said Sheldon Souray, who manhandled Keith Ballard after the Panthers D-man took a run at Ales Hemsky. "We have a real sense of team in here and guys were sticking up for each other. It's good to see - we're going to need that throughout the year. It brings a team closer together and it gives the skill guys the confidence and room to do what they have to do, knowing that guys have their back."

After Florida's Jordan Henry bloodied Liam Reddox with a hit, Guilluame Lefebvre cruised in and crushed Henry with an elbow then pummelled Janis Sprukts in the ensuing fight. He got off with a mere double minor for his efforts. He followed that one up with a win over Tanner Glass in a highly entertaining second period bout.

Theo Peckham dropped Mike Ducco in the first period after Ducco tried to separate Erik Cole's head from the rest of his body with an open ice hit that just missed.

Peckham and Ducco went at it again in the third.

"They took it to us in the first period and we had to have an answer for that in some form," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who liked the spirit he saw in his club.

"Sheldon's shown a lot of leadership, being an intimidating force. It's scary out there at times when he's playing with the edge he's played with the last two gamers. Lefebvre was pretty impressive, too. I didn't know he had that in his game, but he knew what he was doing.

"Same with Theo. He hurt his hand in the first fight and it was borderline whether he was going to be able to finish the game. Then he went after Ducco again, and he played well outside of the fighting."

The Oilers weren't happy that some of the Panthers were trying to dole out kill shots in the preseason.

"We didn't like how their defence, Ballard in particular, was running up and trying to make big hits on our key players when it was really unnecessary. I thought it was borderline."

The Oilers were outshot 29-19 but made it to overtime on the strength of two power play goals - Shawn Horcoff and Liam Reddox.

"Special teams bailed us out a little bit," said MacTavish. "Kind of put the earrings on the pig."

The Panthers scored on three of five shootout attempts to post the win. The two teams meet again tonight.

MOMENT OF SILENCE

The Oilers had a moment of silence before last night's game in memory of Jussi Markkanen's four-year-old son Olie who died after falling out of a multi-storey apartment window in Russia.


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