SUN Hockey Pool

Home cooking conundrum

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

They're a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time team and prime time comes early this season.

Today and tomorrow is kind of the calm before the storm for the 2009-2010 Edmonton Oilers. You know the storm is coming and you appreciate having the extra time to prepare for it when it hits because when it does, you'd better be ready.

The fans, no doubt, would like their team to be playing on opening night of the NHL season tonight.

The media, running out of preseason story angles, would definitely vote for it to get going right now as well.

The players and coaching staff, however, are quite happy to wait until 8 p.m. Saturday night and be the last team starting their season in the 30-team league.

But head coach Pat Quinn confessed yesterday he is not all that thrilled, once it gets going, to have seven of the first nine games at home.

The problem here is that for a number of reasons -- including their stupid preseason schedule and a new coaching staff with a new system and philosophy -- the Oilers know they're not quite ready to lift the lid yet.

"When I saw our preseason schedule with all those games coming early I wasn't happy with that," said Quinn. "As a coach you want to get down to your team early, especially when you're coaching a new team.

"I'm happy we have these extra days before we start and we're using them well.

"As for playing seven out of our first nine at home, I don't necessarily like that," confessed Quinn. "If you're still struggling early in front of our crowd, which will want to see success early ..."

Quinn knows the history here last year and the number of times this team left the ice being booed. He also knows that one of the big reasons the Oilers missed the playoffs was their inability to win at home where they only managed 18 victories, two fewer than they won on the road.

He's also aware that for a team which has missed the playoffs three straight seasons, to get out of the gate at, say, 2-7 or 3-6 would be catastrophic. Especially if you've used up seven of your home games. There may be a delay in getting this season going, but once it starts -- with the first four at home including two Calgary home games in the first week -- it's going to come with heaping helpings of pressure to perform right out of the gate.

"The wait to get going definitely helps us," said captain Ethan Moreau.

"We didn't have a lot of practice time and we're using it now like we did (yesterday) to work on the power play and like we will (today) to work on the penalty killing.

"You can win a lot of games early in the season because of being more prepared. These extra days can make a big difference in somebody knowing where he's supposed to be and not supposed to be.

"And as far as having all those home games early, well, we have to get in the mindset that if good things are going to happen to us this year, it has to start at home. So we might as well start by playing well at home right from the start of the season.

"We need to show pride in front of our home fans and we might as well do that right off."

There are some advantages in so many games at home to start the season. One is that it spaces the games nicely and allows for plenty more practice time that you aren't going to get on road trips with back-to-back games. That's compounded by a compressed schedule in an Olympic year and the fact the Oilers are booted out of their building during the Canadian Finals Rodeo and again in early December for the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Olympic curling trials.

The biggest benefit of so many home games early might be to get Nikolai Khabibulin comfortable in the crease.

"It gives us a good chance to start good," said the 'Bulin Wall, who hasn't exactly found the form he had last year.

"If we take care of business at home then we start good."

Quinn said the games are spaced so well that Khabibulin will get most of them out of the gate.

"He'll be able to get his legs under him. I don't think he feels he's there yet."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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