SUN Hockey Pool

True to their word

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers had yesterday off, which, if they were smart, was spent reflecting on what happened Saturday night.

After struggling for 27 games to find an identity, they'd be well advised to bottle and study the 3-0 win they just threw at the Vancouver Canucks.

"There's a template there now," said head coach Craig MacTavish, after the most complete game of Edmonton's season. "We just have to follow it. Everybody played their role."

The Oilers were physical and disciplined, hard on the forecheck, stingy on defence and they buried their opportunities, qualities they've shown flashes of all season, just never on the same night for 60 minutes.

Even the Canucks were a little taken aback.

"We thought they were going to come out hard and they did," Ryan Kesler said afterward. "They kind of pushed us back on our heels a little bit."

"They came out hard, they came out the way they said they were going to come out in the newspaper," added goalie Curtis Sanford. "It's nothing we weren't expecting, we just have to be up to the challenge (Wednesday)."

That's the Oilers for you. Wave a red flag in front of them and they'll rise up for battle. Lull them to sleep and they'll bring pillows to the opening faceoff.

Some way, somehow, they have to ignite the same fire that burned in them on Saturday night in every game.

"At times it's hard to manufacture that, and it's tough to play 80 games like that," said Ethan Moreau. "But it's no secret the big wins we've had this year came when we responded to physical teams.

"The problem with us is our lack of physical play and our lack of aggression has come against teams that aren't aggressive or tough. When we play against tough teams we always answer, like Calgary, Vancouver, Anaheim, Philly. We've played some really good games against more aggressive teams.

"Hopefully it's a work in progress and we can learn from this, and realize that this is the way we can play to be really successful."

ABOUT THAT PP: IF THERE WAS ANYTHING TO NITPICK ABOUT ON SATURDAY IT'S THAT EDMONTON'S POWER PLAY, WHICH HAS NORMALLY BEEN PRETTY GOOD THIS YEAR (11TH OVERALL) TURNED IN ITS WORST GAME OF THE SEASON.

It went zero-for-eight, without a goal to show for 9:51 with the man advantage. The Oilers had a pair of long two-man advantages (1:14 in the first and 1:18 in the third) and didn't even get a single shot on goal.

"It's a good sign when the power play is a little bit off early (and everything still works out)," said Moreau. "It's nice to win a game where you don't need your power play to win it for you."

SHOOT TO THRILL: WITH 10 GOALS IN 28 GAMES, ALES HEMSKY IS ON PACE TO BREAK HIS PERSONAL BEST OF 20 GOALS, WHICH HE SET LAST SEASON.

The set-up man is shooting a lot more this season. The six pucks he fired at Sanford on Saturday upped his season total to 92, already more than half of the 184 shots he took last season.

The fact he shot and scored on a three-on-one Saturday night, instead of passing, shows how he's expanded his attack.

"He wants to score now," said centre Shawn Horcoff. "He's always been a guy who's creative, but he's not holding it as much as he was before. He's shooting it when he's open."

FIRST BLOOD: FURTHER EVIDENCE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF SCORING FIRST: EDMONTON HAS 14 WINS THIS YEAR, THEY'VE SCORED FIRST IN 10 OF THEM.

In 10 of their 12 regulation losses, the opponent scored first.

The Oilers wanted to address their slow starts and lately they have, drawing first blood in four of their last five games, winning all four of them. Their only loss came when they outshot the Panthers 41-16 and couldn't buy a goal.

"That just sets the tone for the rest of the night," said Horcoff. "We talked about continuing to get shots to the net and getting more traffic there."


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