Reversal of fortunes

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

A year ago they lose those last two Calgary games.

Or, at the very least, they win them in the shootout after Calgary scores late in the third to steal an overtime point.

When it came to preserving the lead last season, Edmonton usually came apart faster than Mark Messier at a sweater retirement ceremony.

You don't go to overtime 25 times in one year because of your third period poise. There were an awful lot of gag jobs in there.

And proud as they were of their 15 shootout wins, the Oilers couldn't help lamenting all the single points that got away and ended up in the other team's column.

"I remember last year sometimes we were panicking late in the third, giving up those late goals," said netminder Mathieu Garon, who's allowed just one third-period goal in three starts. "This year we seem much more confident in those situations. I think it's just experience, having some veteran guys back. We know we can do it and we don't panic."

PERFECT START

The Oilers are 4-0 to start the season and in each one of those games they had to close out a one-goal lead in the third. Four times the other side pulled its goalie in search of the equalizer and four times they couldn't get it.

Not even with Sheldon Souray watching the game in a suit or with a raw rookie playing his first NHL game between the pipes.

"Last year it was the other way around, we were losing games like this, giving up games at the end of the third period," said Andrew Cogliano. "It's way different this year. It's very encouraging to see guys like Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani, the older guys, our leaders, playing so well. They sort of calm down the whole group.

"We didn't have that a lot of last season (because of the injuries). It's big for us. They just grind it out late in the third and get the wins for us. And Matty Garon, you can't say enough about him."

Last year the Oilers were missing the likes of Moreau, Horcoff, Pisani and Souray for long stretches and it showed. The addition of Erik Cole also helps provide the kind of veteran stability that makes such a big difference in those final frantic moments.

"We've got some guys who've played a lot of hockey, guys who've been to the finals, guys who've won a Stanley Cup, all-stars," said Moreau, one of the guys who's always out there with the game on the line.

"We have guys who should be comfortable in that situation. We're not a green team, even though we're still pretty young. There's no reason why we shouldn't be composed.

"And that's important because if you don't close those games out you're not going to have a very good year."

It also seems to help that the Oilers are not trying to protect the lead as much as extend it.

The rope-a-dope style that didn't seem to work all that well last year has been replaced by a more vigorous posture.

NOT BACKING DOWN

"We're more aggressive in the neutral zone, we don't retreat as much," said Moreau. "And it doesn't matter what you do if you don't get the saves, and the goalies have been great in the third."

Leading 3-2 after 40 minutes on Saturday night against Calgary, the Oilers didn't go into a shell. The shots were 10-10 in the third. Leading 4-2 going into the third period Friday, the Oilers survived three even-up penalties in the final 20 minutes to win 4-3. Despite being shorthanded almost six minutes, they were only outshot 12-8.

"We're not sitting back, we're not letting them take it to us," said Pisani.

"And when we do get in trouble, we're not running around, we're a little bit more controlled, a lot more patient around the ice.

"We have enough guys who've been in this situation before and have enough composure to make plays under pressure - get the pucks out along the walls, block shots, just do those little things that you need to do to be successful as a team."


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