SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers take baby steps back to glory

Oilers head coach Pat Quinn after practice in Edmonton, Sept. 30, 2009. (Perry Mah/Sun Media)

Oilers head coach Pat Quinn after practice in Edmonton, Sept. 30, 2009. (Perry Mah/Sun Media)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

Here we go, Oilers!

Or, here we go again, Oilers.

A new beginning, or same old same old?

The Quinn-tuplets take their first baby steps down one of those paths tonight.

Calgary's visit to Rexall Place this evening is more than just another home opener, more than bagpipes, fireworks and the nerve to sell $8 beer.

This is the first game of the rest of their lives, the first game in nine years under someone other than Craig MacTavish and the first opportunity to relaunch a once-mighty Oilers brand that has, in recent times, been more associated with disarray and failure than five Stanley Cups.

Ready or not, here they come.

"Opening night, we'll probably be scared a little bit of what might happen because sometimes you don't know what that first one is going to be like, you don't really have a good measuring stick for yourselves at this point," said new coach Pat Quinn, who's still in the early stages of a physical and psychological rebuilding effort.

"We don't know who we are yet; we know we're a team that didn't make the playoffs the last few years."

"Training camp was tough, we had to learn a lot," added Patrick O'Sullivan. "Everyone is excited to start the season and see where we stand."

Now, Dustin Penner scored two goals in the first game last year and Edmonton went 4-0 out of the gate, so we can safely conclude that home openers and quick starts mean very little in the grand scheme of things. But this isn't an organization with vast reservoirs of self-assuredness to draw from, and given how the last three seasons ended, it wouldn't take much to suffocate the fragile confidence they've spent the last month nursing back to health.

It's important to see results, to know that this really is the new beginning they're counting on under Quinn and new netminder Nikolai Khabibulin.

"It would be great for our confidence if we could win early," said team captain Ethan Moreau. "Nobody wants to start the season poorly because there's always people questioning our team or questioning our personnel, and we haven't played a game yet. You can imagine how it will be magnified if we don't start well."

The last thing they want to do is pick up where they left off last year, ringing toilet water out of their sweaters every night.

Hence the new coach and the new system.

Management couldn't do much in the way of new players, but if the buzz in the dressing room is true, you won't recognize some of the old ones, which might be the next best thing.

"We have a lot to prove as a team and as individuals," said defenceman Sheldon Souray. "We're ready to move forward. We have a game plan, guys are excited to go out and put our stamp on the game. We haven't had an identity here for a while."

The one they're going for is hard, fast and hungry -- Oilers calling cards that were somehow lost along the way.

"Some of the identity they wanted to be known for, they felt it slipped off," said Quinn. "The 'hard-working Edmonton Oilers in a working man's town, we're going to show up and nobody is going to out-work us.' A lot of them want to re-establish that."

Starting tonight.

"This year we're coming in saying we all have to be better," said Souray, adding there's no excuse for not stepping it up after your coach gets fired.

"Now the blame is going to fall on us, the players. It's going to be a challenge for us. We're not going to go from where we were last year to first place, probably, but we'll try to be the best team every night and win a lot of hockey games because that's going to silence everyone and make us better in here."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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