SUN Hockey Pool

It's showtime in Edmonton

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Finally, a full eight weeks into the season, we get our first real look at the Edmonton Oilers.

The first 26 games, a gruelling, torturous and borderline unfair schedule that sent the Oilers into survival mode from the get go, told us nothing.

But at least it's over. Now that the club is rested, recovered and unpacked for an extended stay at Rexall Place, where it will play 12 of its next 15, we can, at long last, see what we've got here.

Up until now, there's been no way to tell if the Oilers are any good or not, and certainly no means of determining if they're capable of contending for the division lead, as so many of them predicted in training camp. They're playing a sliver over .500 and not looking particularly good doing it, but does the inconsistency and lack of intensity have to do with the Oilers, or was it the schedule talking?

Who knows?

Despite near panic in some corners of the fan base and cries for a coaching change in others, it's simply not fair to judge anything based on a ridiculous, never-ending road trip.

"The schedule we've had has been well documented, but the impact has also been underrated," said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau, whose club played 18 of 26 on the road, including seven sets of back-to-backs, and took 22 flights in those 26 games. "I've played a long time and have never seen a schedule like this, where you're going coast-to-coast and playing all those back-to-back games.

"The good thing about it is we got through it OK."

Better than OK. If you are going to grade the first 26 games, give it a B+. Coming out of it two games over .500, given the sophomore jinxes and the slumps, is really very good.

"Absolutely," said centre Shawn Horcoff. "I think two games over .500 is exactly what we were talking about at the start of the year. We thought if we could be .500, that would be OK, if we could be two or three games over .500 that would be great.

"It was tough, and given all the ups and downs we had, it doesn't feel like we're two games above .500, it feels like we've been scratching and clawing the whole way."

They were. And from that they've gleaned a measure of satisfaction heading into the make-or-break segment of the season.

"It shows the character of the team, how hard guys can battle," said Andrew Cogliano. "We had some games where we didn't play well, and stretches where things weren't looking very good, but we came through with some big wins on the road, in places like Philly and Carolina, New York and New Jersey. It showed that we're a good team.

"We've been up and down, but 13-11-2 given what we've been through, is pretty good. I think we're realizing that and we're confident now. We're upbeat and excited to be home."

If it was unfair to judge the Oilers before, it isn't now. Playing .500 is perfectly acceptable on an endless road swing, but won't be tolerated on any front over an extended period at home.

It's showtime. They had a legitimate excuse for not looking their best over the first 26 games, now they don't. The Oilers have to flick a switch and start playing at about a .700 clip, which isn't going to happen automatically just because they're at home.

"A lot of times it can go south when you're just expecting it to happen," said Horcoff. "There's no easy games in this league, especially for us, but having said that, there's definitely an advantage to this - you start winning some games and playing some good hockey and it's easier to get on a roll at home."

Start losing and playing without intensity, and they'll wish they were back on the road.

"There is pressure," admitted Horcoff. "But that can be a good thing, too. There's more expected of you, so you're coming to the rink as prepared as you can be, knowing that there's going to be consequences from the fans and from the media."


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