SUN Hockey Pool

Batteries recharged for Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

When kids go back to school in the fall, teachers normally commission essays about how they spent their summer vacations.

It'll be almost the same thing for the Edmonton Oilers when they return to work after a much-needed, just-in-time, five-day break in their schedule.

Only they won't have to bring any pens or paper - the impact their recent breather had on a team nobody can quite figure out yet will write itself tonight against the Los Angeles Kings.

Losers of four of their last five, the Oilers were saved by the bell after last Thursday's defeat against the Wings. Now, after five days off to rest, practise, clear their minds and charge their batteries, it's time to show what they've done, if not who they are.

"Hopefully we'll find out a lot about our team (tonight), in how we respond," said captain Ethan Moreau, one of the few players on the 9-9-2 Oilers who's responded all year. "We have to play with a lot of energy. Maybe one of the reasons we didn't have that was due to our schedule and our travel, the back-to-back games."

That's over. At least for tonight. It gets stupid again on the weekend - back-to-back in St. Louis and Dallas, home for one, then down to California for back-to-back games in Los Angeles and San Jose - but there's no reason they shouldn't have their best stuff on display tonight.

Fatigue won't be a problem and nobody's going to accept rust as an excuse. It's time to step up and give some indication that their recent spate of impotence was the result of a punishing schedule and not a greater plight that simple rest and home cooking can't fix.

"Absolutely," said Tom Gilbert. "You don't want to take this break and then fall right back into the bad routine of turnovers and all the things we've been working on these five days. It's definitely a big game and I think that we'll be ready."

They say the break in the schedule, in which they practised or worked out four times and had one day off, helped on a lot of fronts. For starters, it was nice to go more than 24 hours without being booed (a fan response that wasn't always limited to the road games), and the physical benefits are obvious.

"It was nice to have this, not have a game every day where you're bumping and grinding and wearing your body down," said Tom Gilbert. "You get five days off to practise, work on systems, build more strength in the weight room. You don't get a chance very often to do that."

"I feel rested,"added Moreau. "The schedule so far has been gruelling, to say the least, with all the travel and the games and the tough buildings that we've played in. It's been a good five days to kind of regroup and probably most importantly have a mental break from the game, so we can focus and re-energize for another tough month."

Even though so many forwards are struggling to find their hands, Edmonton still hasn't settled on a No. 1 goalie, and they play 18 of their first 26 games on the road, they've still left themselves in a decent position. Get through the next six games and 12 of their next 15 are at home. And all three of those road games are short-flight singles (Vancouver twice and Calgary).

"If we can finish the year well above .500 at home we're going to have a good season," said Moreau. "It's still in our control. We're .500 playing a lot of games on the road. If we can be dominant at home, play a lot better than we did last game at home, we'll be OK."

A sloppy loss means a return of the dark cloud that followed them into the break, but a win provides breathing room and confidence.

"We still have a lot to prove," said Gilbert. "All we can do is learn from the first 20 games and come back and try to fix the holes we have in our game."

"I think everybody realizes we have to start producing and start winning," head coach Craig MacTavish summed up.


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