SUN Hockey Pool

The puck drops here

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

It's been 192 days between regular season games for the Edmonton Oilers.

"I guess the league is finally going to let us play," confirmed coach Craig MacTavish of tonight's lid-lifter against the Colorado Avalanche.

It's been 30 seasons since this town and this team have been this excited to start a season and they make the first team to complete last year's schedule the last team to start this year's.

Not since the very first season has Edmonton and a bunch of young Oilers been this dialed up to get a season going.

"Everybody is excited," said captain Ethan Moreau. "The players are excited, the fans are excited, the media is excited."

The media, too? Can this be true?

The Oilers last regular season game was April 3. That was three days before most everybody else completed their schedules on April 6. Sixteen of them, of course, proceeded to the playoffs, which came to an end June 4. By contrast, the Pittsburgh Penguins had 122 days between games when they opened Oct. 4 in Sweden.

"It sucks waiting this long but you could feel the energy turn today," said Sheldon Souray of finally getting to the day before the day they play.

Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Ethan Moreau and others were injured at the end of the season as young guns Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Tom Gilbert and company provided the preview of the future in the final few weeks. It's been an even longer wait for them.

'BUILD THIS THING'

"I think a big part of it with the players is that this first game puts the guys who missed the end of the season along with our new guys all together. The real excitement is getting going to build this thing together," added the new assistant captain.

The wait has been excruciating. Everybody involved battled boredom in every aspect of getting from the fantastic finish of last season - despite failing to make the playoffs by three points - to at long last making it to tonight's opening faceoff.

And, as Moreau mentions, not just for the guys on ice and the ones behind the bench, but to the fans in the stands all the way up to the people in the press box. Particularly the people from the press box.

I mean, think about it. How many sophomore jinx or crowded crease pieces can you create over a span of 192 days?

Finally, yesterday it was time to take the temperature of the team prior to a specific game instead of an entire season - or even a collection of coming seasons.

Finally, yesterday Joey Moss carefully printed the time of the first game day morning skate of the regular season on the board. It was like even the Oilers famed locker room attendant had waited so long to get to his first official duty of the regular season that he painstakingly went out of his way to try make it perfect.

'RIGHT FRAME OF MIND'

"Mentally they're in the right frame of mind right now in terms of excitement, energy and confidence," said MacTavish of reading his team going into this game.

"Most importantly, they're pretty confident. The rest is going to be up to performance once the puck drops."

The Oilers, historically, tend to specialize in openers, particularly in home openers.

They haven't lost a home opener since Oct. 10, 1998, when they were edged 2-1 by the Los Angeles Kings.

Overall they're 16-7-5 in local lid-lifters and 15-9-4 in opening night's overall.

MacTavish's record is near-perfect.

He won his first opener as head coach 2-1 over Detroit in 2001, lost 1-0 in an opener in Calgary the following year and hasn't lost one, home or away, since.

"A few first games ago Horcoff scored on the first shift. That really helps," he said.

MacTavish has no explanation as to why he's so much better coaching in first games than in the 81 that follow or, for that matter, how to explain the Red Wings losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs the night they raised their Stanley Cup banner in Detroit, or Calgary losing 6-0 to Vancouver for openers. (Calgary has failed to win their opener every year since beating the Oilers back in '02.)

He also offered no clue as to how the Chicago Blackhawks, a team very similar to this one and just as giddy to get going as the Oilers, would make a mess of their opener.

"Thinking about random things like that and trying to come up with a good answer can give you a headache," said MacTavish.


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