SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers bring some edge

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

They won't win 'em all -- which is rather obvious given that they haven't won any, yet -- but if opening night is any indication, shoving Edmonton into the loss column just got a lot tougher.

The feisty, hard-hitting team that head coach Pat Quinn unveiled Saturday night looked nothing like the passive passengers who allowed Rexall Place to become such a warm and welcome destination for NHL opponents last year.

HIT MORE FREQUENTLY

They forechecked more aggressively, hit more frequently and treated Edmonton to the kind of vigour and vehemence fans here have been longing for for years.

"We went over some of the things we did well and some of the things we did poorly, but the overall effort and our physical play, I thought, was excellent," said captain Ethan Moreau. "It was an exciting game and we haven't had that here in a while. We had a lot of guys who played hard and played tough."

Credit much of the new energy to the new blood. With JF Jacques, Gilbert Brule and Ryan Stone replacing Fernando Pisani, Marc Pouliot and Robert Nilsson, the Oilers looked like an entirely different animal.

Jacques, Brule and Stone led the way with five, four and three hits respectively (which probably translates into about 10, eight and six given that the statskeepers at Rexall Place have never known how to count hits), creating a 'bang first, ask questions later' mentality that quickly spread through the lineup.

"For me and Stone, that's the game we need to play, and Bru is a smaller guy but he's not afraid to go in the corners and throw the hits," said Jacques, who likes the way everyone joined in. "There was definitely an edge to that game. You see guys like Cogs (Andrew Cogliano) going in there and throwing hits, and Gags (Sam Gagner) with a couple of good hits and a good scrap. We're trying to find our identity here and playing hard like that is going to build into something good."

It doesn't take much to change a team's chemistry, for better or for worse, and the new additions seem to have sparked something in the room.

"It's a personnel thing," said Moreau. "It's amazing, if you add just a couple of guys up front who are physical it makes a big difference. Instead of going five or six minutes without a hit and everybody wondering why you're not playing hard, if you have somebody on every line then it's just a consistent physical play and it's contagious, everybody follows suit and it's a fun way to play.

"You have guys who play bigger than they are, like Sam did last night. You could really tell; they won the game but I thought physically we matched their intensity and surpassed it, which hasn't been the case in previous years."

Bullies like Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf, who used to prey on Edmonton's water bugs, spent more time with their faces pressed up against the glass than they ever have against Edmonton.

"Stone was great, he was getting in guys' faces and going to the net hard, playing the body. He hit Giordano right over the boards one time," said Brule. "It's great that we can provide a bit of grit. Obviously a disappointing finish but I think our team did a lot of good things."

INTENSITY

Maintaining the same intensity all year long won't be easy, but in lieu of true offensive superstars, it will be necessary. Moreau remembers the days when Edmonton played like bulldogs every night and says with the lineup they have now, getting back to that place shouldn't be a problem.

"I've played on Oilers teams where we played like that every single night," said Moreau, adding this was more than just opening night adrenaline. "That's just the makeup of our team. Guys are going to play physical every night."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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