Canucks likely to tough it out

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Here comes trouble.

And it might just be what the Edmonton Oilers need.

Fans who've witnessed the inconsistent Oilers starve for intensity all season long could see them force fed about 60 minutes worth of it tonight when the Vancouver Canucks wear out their welcome at Rexall Place.

If the second-most-penalized team in the NHL, and proud owners of the second-most majors in the league, picks up where it left off in Nashville, Edmonton will have no choice but to awaken its own dormant vigour.

If not, they'll get what Nashville got.

"I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to look inside their locker-room and see what the game plan is going to be for Saturday," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. "That's a challenge we have to stand up to. It's as simple as that. If you're not going to control the tough areas of the game you're not going to have very much success."

The belligerent Canucks, by all accounts, pretty much ran the Predators out of their own building in a 3-1 decision Tuesday night that was highlighted by plenty of hard hits -- legal and otherwise -- and ensuing fights when Nashville took offence to the rough treatment.

Preds' coach Barry Trotz, whose club is no pushover itself, accused Vancouver of "head hunting" and called on the NHL to investigate.

If it worked for the Canucks in Tennessee, there's no reason they shouldn't try it here.

"If our forwards are going to be banging and crashing like that, I'm all for it," said Canuck defenceman and NHL penalty minute leader Shane O'Brien. "All year here, it's been if one guy goes in, there are four more guys coming in as well. If Edmonton wants to have a physical game, we have no problem with that."

Edmonton isn't anyone's idea of a tough team, but they seem to react well when opponents jolt them out of a sleepwalk.

"It'll force guys to play a physical, aggressive style that we've responded well to in the past," said Ethan Moreau.

"Hopefully, it brings out the best in us."

Last year, the Oilers had a mid-February bloodbath in Vancouver (by the 21-second mark of the first period there were already seven players in the penalty box), and it seemed to galvanize them down the stretch.

"That game was a turning point in our season, we all really came together after that and played really hard for one another," said Sam Gagner, who got in his first NHL fight that night. "I expect tomorrow will be a lot like that game. Every time we play Vancouver, it's a heated rivalry."

A heated rival could be the best thing for them right now, since they're not always at their sharpest when it's low-intensity, technical hockey -- like Thursday's 2-0 loss to Florida.

"We needed some sort of a big hit or a big goal, it was kind of dead game," said Moreau.

"Sometimes, it's hard to manufacture that if the opportunity doesn't present itself."

"We're better in that style of game when there's a little emotion involved," added Gagner.

Clearly, the Canucks, who are battling with Calgary for the division lead, have no trouble defining themselves as a team: Hard nosed, as evidenced by those 539 penalty minutes and 33 majors.

Edmonton, 17th in PIMs (398) and bottom of the pack in goals, is still searching.

"The one area that I think has been lacking in our game is our ability to impose our will on the opposition when we need to at critical stages," said MacTavish.

"That's the mark of a good team; you recognize the situation within the game and you step up."


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