SUN Hockey Pool

Huge what-ifs for the Oilers

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

What if some of this is for real?

Nobody wants to say it might be because, well, it's just not cool in a real hockey city where the team has missed the playoffs three straight seasons.

But what if this is real?

You know people are thinking it. Or maybe trying not to think it.

Patrick O'Sullivan became the first to think it out loud.

"We're definitely a better team than we were at the end of last year," he said after Friday's 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

"It's just fun to be in the room here. We have a good atmosphere and everybody is excited to come to the rink," said the winger who came here at the trade deadline last year.

HE SAID IT ...

And then he said it.

"If we can win in this city it's going to be unbelievable."

What if Dustin Penner, who with five goals and four assists was only one point behind Dany Heatley in the scoring race going into play last night, starts playing like this permanently?

What if Gilbert Brule, the local product who was sixth pick in the draft in 2005 but spent last season in the minors where he only managed 13 goals and 11 assists, is what he seems to be so far with his four goals and three assists, not to mention 17 hits?

Nobody wants to say it because the Oilers were 4-0 last year. Every year there are a few tease teams like the Oilers were last year. I mean, anybody expect Colorado and Phoenix or Ottawa and Atlanta to stay up there?

What if this is real?

Pat Quinn won't let anybody go there. At least not yet.

It's becoming a routine for the Oilers to win and the media to parade into the post-game interview room to watch the new head coach throw water all over it.

Like Friday night.

"We had some guys who played very well but as a team, we're still ragged in some areas for sure," he began.

"We get back to the puck too slow on our shoot-ins and we're not as prepared as we need to be. So we spend some time in our zone that we don't need to be doing," he continued.

"It's about preparation. Our defence wants to carry it. They don't want to pass it. They don't prepare to pass it. We have to get that part of our game fixed up because we'll spend a lot of time in our own end if we don't get it fixed up. A couple of our skill guys want to pass the puck into the net, they don't want to put the puck on the net. They're back-passing, doing spin-o-ramas and all that pretty stuff they think they can get away with, I guess. It's not effective. And every time we turn the puck over, we spend a lot of time in our zone.

"Those are the areas and I've been saying it for the last six games ... now seven games.

SOME BRIGHT SPOTS

"But we had some guys come up with some good performances. We caught a team that's been on the road (0-5) and we needed to win the game and at the end of the day we found a way to do that. So we'll keep working on some of the other stuff."

What if Quinn actually gets these guys to buy into everything he's selling here?

If they can do what they've done so far looking like a bunch of cream puffs, rubbydubs, morning glories, pansies, Barbara Ann Scotts, etc., what will they be capable of when he finally gets them coached up?

Going into last night's action the Oilers were breathing some rare air in the top half of some statistical categories.

Like sitting third in goals per game at 3.86. Last year they were 18th at 2.78.

Or being positioned fourth in five-on-five statistics averaging 1.69 goals per game. Last year they were 14th at 1.01.

OK, they're way back in 17th on the power play. But last year they were 22nd.

And they're way back in 17th in penalty killing. But last year they were 27th.

Despite making no move to improve themselves in the area, the Oilers are also miraculously sitting 10th in faceoff percentage at 51.3%. Last year they were 25th at 47.9.

And what about some of the individual stats?

Ladislav Smid is tied for third in plus-minus with +8 and Lubomir Visnovsky is tied for sixth at +7.

Shawn Horcoff may not be getting the points but he went into last night's play tied with Sidney Crosby with most faceoffs won at 88.

J.F. Jacques sat third in hits with 27 and Ryan Stone and Zack Stortini tied for 25th with 19 each. Stone is also in the top 25 in the take-away category.

What if some of this, any of this, is for real?

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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