Oilers prove they won't be pushed around

Edmonton Oilers' Ben Ondrus takes the shot that scored on Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. ...

Edmonton Oilers' Ben Ondrus takes the shot that scored on Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. *REUTERS/Andy Clark)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Call it revenge of the nerds.

The Edmonton Oilers might as well have worn pocket protectors, broken glasses and Justin Bieber Fan Club T-shirts on the ice last year for all the times they had their lunch money stolen and their heads shoved into the toilet water.

They were pushed around so badly that GM Steve Tambellini, well aware that he couldn't let the same thing happen to all those blue chip kids ion the horizon, vowed in his end of season address that the Oilers would be 98-pound weaklings no more.

If Wednesday night's lineup in Vancouver is any indication, mission accomplished.

Maybe they were sending a message to a divisional opponent that's been roughing them up for years and maybe they weren't, but they dressed Steve MacIntyre, Zack Stortini, Jim Vandermeer and Theo Peckham.

The Canucks, in response, stood down. There were a lot of Oilers asking, and a lot of Canucks acting like they didn't hear.

"We want to make sure we can compete from a physical perspective and allow others on our team who have that skill to have the support to play their game," said head coach Tom Renney, whose club didn't even get a sideways look from a team that used to run them out of the rink. "It's important to have that edge in the lineup."

They had more edge than a drawer full of knives Wednesday in a 3-2 win, and with this kind of muscle in the room, Edmonton's skill players might be breathing a little easier this year.

"You need that team toughness, you have to stand up for each other," said Ales Hemsky, who's always taken more punishment than a player of his ilk should have to. "It gives you a little more confidence out there knowing that somebody is going to step up. That's the way it should work. We have a lot of young guys, so this gives them a little more confidence out there, that they're not going to be pushed around."

Throw in functional grit like Jason Strudwick, Ladislav Smid, Colin Fraser and maybe JF Jacques at some point and intimidating the Oilers seems like less of an option this year.

"We'll see, but that's kind of the idea," said Shawn Horcoff. "Kevin (Lowe) kind of stated that, he said we're going to have a lot of speed and skill and we're going to have guys who are going to protect them.

"We definitely have some guys in camp with size and grit. Mac (MacIntyre) is up there with any of the heavies in the league and Vandy can hold his own, he sticks up for his teammates a lot. We definitely have more guys who can help Storts in that role, it was tough on him last year."

Stortini was kind of a one-man show last year, and had to fight out of his weight class on plenty of occasions. With this much backup, he can go back to being the pesky agitator that everyone hates playing against.

"We have some good gritty guys coming in," said Stortini. "It's never a one-man job. If you look around the league every team has a couple of guys who help with that role."

The Oilers could have five or six.

"We're going to be competitive and prepared and play hard-nosed hockey," said Stortini. "It's going to be a battle every night."

LATE HITS: The Oilers out-worked a Vancouver team that dressed a handful of its best players -- like both Sedins and Roberto Luongo.

Ben Ondrus had a goal and an assist Wednesday while Chris Vande Velde and Greg Stewart also scored for Edmonton ... Martin Gerber stopped 14 shots in 27:34 of shutout hockey before giving way to Devan Dubnyk.


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