SUN Hockey Pool

Oiler kids all right despite loss

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

WINNIPEG -- It's only supposed to be the wide-eyed rookies who look lost when the opposition lineups get deeper and stronger in the late stages of training camp, but in Edmonton's case the stage-fright had become pretty much a total team effort.

SPREAD LIKE FLU

It spread through the lineup like H1N1 flu, from Ales Hemsky to Sam Gagner to Robert Nilsson to any number of skill players who seemed to be missing their top gear.

In training camp it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game, and in three straight losses Edmonton's go-go guys were virtually invisible.

It was enough to give the Oilers coaching staff a few grey hairs.

But last night in Winnipeg, after a miserable first period in which Edmonton looked hopelessly outclassed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, there came a ray of hope.

The Oilers shuffled their deck chairs and the artists formerly known as The Kid Line sprang to life, giving head coach Pat Quinn a first hand look at the stuff that made them the high-octane darlings of the 2007 stretch drive.

With Edmonton trailing 2-0 in the second period, Nilsson (on a feed from Gagner) pulled Edmonton to within a goal and Andrew Cogliano scored to tie it in the final minute.

Fellow young gun Tom Gilbert put the Oilers up 3-2 in the third and they were all over the place in the third period and OT.

It was shades of two years ago.

"We enjoy playing with each other and we were hoping for an opportunity to play together sometime in camp," said Cogliano, who scored his first of the pre-season. "As the lines got juggled around we got the opportunity and I think we did a good job, showed we can still play with each other."

It was the kind of energy Quinn likes to see.

"He wants the young guys to step up and start playing well," said Cogliano. "We're a line where if we get some confidence we start feeding off each other and keep going. Hopefully he likes what he saw and we get another chance."

There were still blemishes, a lost faceoff (Gagner) set up Tampa's tying goal late in the third, and another lost faceoff (Ryan Stone) set up the winner with 6.6 seconds left in OT, but Edmonton needed some jump from its young speedsters and they finally saw it.

Nilsson needed this one more than anyone. Gagner and Cogliano are safe, he's not.

"I love playing with those two, it seems like we never get tired out there," he said. "Last year we got off on the wrong foot as a line, but we know we can be really good with each other. We just have to be responsible on the defensive zone because we all know we can score goals."

The Oilers are set in goal and on defence, but there are still 20 forwards competing for 14 spots. Ready or not, the regular season is fast approaching, so they'll have to commit to the keepers very soon.

"I think we have to come to grips pretty soon with the numbers," said Quinn. "That will be a discussion among our organization. Management basically has the final say, that's the way this stuff works."

LATE HITS: Don Cherry dropped the puck for the opening faceoff as Manitoba product Dustin Penner, who wore an A, took the draw for Edmonton.

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos