EDMONTON -- Last year, after four games, the Edmonton Oilers were undefeated. They were a team picked to click and they were 4-0.
Only one problem. They weren't clicking. And they were about to take a licking.
They ended up losing five of the next six. And you know the rest of the story.
This year, they're a more modest 2-1-1 out of the gate, have gassed two games in the last minute and almost did the same again Saturday night. And they haven't heard an encouraging word from their coach.
But the players believe they have a team getting back to old-fashioned Oilers work ethic and a team showing signs of coming together as a team at this early date instead of a team on the verge of coming apart.
Pat Quinn took his team on the road yesterday and admitted he still doesn't know what he has here.
"We are a work in progress," he said.
"I hope," he added.
Until he sees more progress, he's not going to be patting people on the back and passing out much praise.
But the players, despite the manic depressive games they played in the first four at home, think they've got something growing here -- something going here.
"We're building a good base to fall back on," said Steve Staios. "The structure of our game is at a high level. If we keep harping on each other to play a certain way, we're going to win games."
While Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky aren't off to their greatest starts on the first line, Horcoff is optimistic about the team as a whole he sees coming together here.
"Our intensity is back. Our work ethic is back. We did what we needed to do in the first four games -- we built the beginning of something to count on, something that's always been our M.O. We'd lost that a little bit.
"We've added some sandpaper. We've had a lot of breakdowns, but we can work to eliminate those. But our intensity level is back. We're becoming a harder team to play against."
Ladislav Smid says they're playing the games harder and smarter.
"Especially smarter," he said. "The Oilers have been well known for hard work and especially for always skating. Now we're working smarter."
Quinn, though, isn't going anywhere near there. One thing about the 66-year-old coach, he doesn't want these guys to start thinking they're anywhere close to amounting to anything yet.
"We pick times to not be smart," he said.
"Until the Montreal game, we're getting the type of work ethic they believe the Oilers always had but the standard had dropped."
Quinn hasn't seen anything resembling consistency yet or anywhere near the extent of the stuff he wants to see.
Which is the best sign of all.