Turn that smile upside down!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

The smiles aren't as quick in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room anymore.

Instead, brows are furled, jaws are clenched and the body language looks borrowed from an army unit preparing for deployment.

On some days you'd almost swear you saw a scowl or two.

Clearly this is not a happy group.

Good. Because there is nothing to be happy about.

After three straight seasons out of the playoffs and one fired coaching staff, the losing has worn thin.

"We talked about last year a lot, and we don't want to harp on that, but we would be stupid if we didn't try to learn something from last year," said defenceman Sheldon Souray, who's been wearing one of the sternest game faces in the room.

"Everyone, the whole organization from top to bottom, we all have something to prove. We haven't fared very well in the last few years here. With the exception of a pretty good Cup run one year, this team and this organization doesn't have a lot to show for the last few years.

"I don't think it's time to sit back and think we're better than we are. There's really nothing for us to rest our laurels on. We have to be better and we have to be more professional."

There is clearly more of an edge to things this year. They haven't even played a regular-season game yet and head coach Pat Quinn is already challenging the veterans.

He did it again yesterday, out of the blue, when asked about their influence on the younger players.

"Some players don't care about it, but I think they have a mentor responsibility," said Quinn.

"That's what good teammates do. We have some guys who aren't leaders who are veterans.

"We need our veterans to care more about the people around them. From what I've watched, some guys don't have time for that, they're busy with themselves right now."

Could you imagine Craig MacTavish saying that? Never happen. Under the new regime, everyone, young and old, role player or star, is being jolted from his comfort zone.

Once again, this is good, and the players will be the first to admit it. While most teams would rather have a player's coach than a taskmaster, this group knows what's good for it right now -- a swift kick in the hockey pants.

"We need more accountability," said Ethan Moreau. "Overall, just more of an edge to everything. I think we've had that in the past and we want that back. That's why they brought in this coaching staff."

Quinn definitely seems to be helping in that respect. MacTavish gave inordinately long leashes to some players and hoplessly short ones to others. Under Quinn, all players seem to be created equal, and all of them are being held to a higher standard than the one that netted them 11th place last year.

"It doesn't matter how long you've been around for, who you played for or what your role was with the team last year," said Souray. "For all of us, we're coming in here with a fresh start. It's businesslike and it's professional. We have to conduct ourselves that way. I think that's one of the things that got away from us last year, a little bit of our professionalism."

That's why guys seem a little peeved.

"We missed the playoffs three years in a row," said Moreau. "It's good that guys are feeling that way."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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