SUN Hockey Pool

What sophomore jinx?

Sam Gagner (left) and Robert Nilsson celebrate a goal against the Panthers during second period...

Sam Gagner (left) and Robert Nilsson celebrate a goal against the Panthers during second period preseason action on Thursday. (Sun Media/Amber Bracken)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

While it was fitting that last year's fairy tale stretch drive was scripted by the guys who were most recently reading fairy tales, there was no guarantee Edmonton's Kid Line would be given the opportunity to pen a sequel.

With Erik Cole added to the forward mix and Dustin Penner coming off a 23-goal season, head coach Craig MacTavish had all kinds of viable options when he sat down to assemble his first two lines.

But in the end, he couldn't bring himself to split up the dynamic trio of Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano, at least not without giving them a chance to duplicate their breakout performances of last season.

"I think they're not only going to duplicate it, they're going to improve upon it," said MacTavish, who had them back together for the first time in the preseason last night against Florida.

"They're all guys who are just scratching the surface of the type of players they're going to be. They have a year of experience under their belt, they know how to play the game, they have a high skill level - there's every reason to think they're not only going to pick up where they left off, but be more prolific."

They showed all kinds of jump last night against the Panthers, with Gagner setting up Nilsson for a second-period power play goal in Edmonton's 3-2 shootout victory. They're thrilled to be back together, and it shows.

"Definitely," said Gagner. "The end of last year, for all three of us, was the most fun ever. Now we have to take the opportunity and show that we belong together again. We're pretty excited about getting the chance."

While skeptics and nervous fans worry about the potential for a sophomore jinx - and the damage it would do to a team that's depending so heavily on them - Gagner, Nilsson and Cogliano are thinking more along the lines of MacTavish. They expect the transition from last March to this October to be seamless.

"I just feel that all three of us are better players than last year," said Nilsson. "I feel faster and more confident than any other season and I think they feel the same. It feels like we're right where we were last year, but we want to be a lot better than that."

They also understand that the expectations are exponentially higher than last season (the kids are being counted on the produce and the Oilers are being counted on to make the playoffs), so there won't be time to ease into the season. MacTavish still has all those viable options if for some reason they can't rediscover their chemistry.

"If we're not contributing we're not going to be playing together," said Gagner, who also scored in the shootout. "We have so much depth on this team that anybody can play with anybody. So if we want to stick together we really have to push each other andf continue to have success out there."

They're a lot more comfortable and confident out there after the success they enjoyed last season, but not so comfortable and confident that they think anything will be handed to them this year. Which is good.

"It's a fine line," said Cogliano, who had a breakaway in overtime that could have won it. "You have a lot of guys who are here pushing for spots, you have (Rob) Schremp and (Gilbert) Brule; they're offensive players, too. If guys like us don't really perform, you can't keep us in a slotted position or give us a lot of minutes.

"We constantly have to prove ourselves. This is only our second year in the league. We're not 10, 11 year vets; we can't get too comfortable.

"We've done a lot to get into the situaton we're in now, but you can't sit back."

Late hits ...

Mathieu Garon went the distance in goal for the Oilers, who were outshot 32-20 ... The crowd at Rexall Place sang "Happy Birthday" to Oilers dressing room attendant Joey Moss, who turned 45 yesterday ... Tyler Spurgeon opened the scoring for Edmonton in the first and Marc Pouliot scored the shootout winner.


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