When they skated on the ice at the start of the game the hometown heroes were greeted by phony fan euphoria.
But there was real actual, unrehearsed, live-and-in-person fun, fun, fun, feel-good fan euphoria to follow.
The Edmonton Oilers responded to a challenge from general manager Steve Tambellini, found some jump in their game and got the joint jumping early.
Let the record show that on Feb. 16 they gave their fans their first home win since Jan. 6.
“It’s fun when you win games, especially at home, when the crowd gets into it, especially like they did tonight when we got them motivated,” said Jordan Eberle, who opened the scoring.
This was after goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made two five-bell saves to provide inspiration behind them after allowing his first two shots on goal in his previous start for his 14th consecutive loss and before Taylor Chorney made it 2-0 on a let-the-bells-ring-out-and-the-banners-fly, see-it-with-your-own eyes power play goal.
“To come home like that and score your first NHL goal and have the crowd go nuts like that was something special,” said up-from-Oklahoma City hometown product who could hear chants of “Chorney! Chorney! Chorney!” outside the dressing room as he did his post-game interviews.
“It’s the way it should be. We are responsible for the mood here in this building. And so we should be,” said coach Tom Renney.
“Khabibulin was good early and we needed him to be. He made some good saves and we fed off that. Our power play scores a goal and then all of a sudden you start to believe in yourself and what you are doing, and why.
“This crowd is awesome when we do what we are supposed to. When we earn the support that they give us, it’s a pretty fun building to be in.”
The effect of GM Steve Tambellini’s talk with the team prior to practice the day before clearly had a positive effect. Tabellini told his team, among other things, to forget about all the focus on finishing 30th and the Oilers possibly picking first in the NHL Entry Draft, and to just go out and think about winning and winning now.
And that’s what they did.
“It was important tonight to respond in front of our fans,” said captain Shawn Horcoff, who had been out of the lineup the previous two games due to bronchitis.
“It was no secret we were challenged and the fans knew we’d been challenged. It’s important to show them what it’s going to be like here in the future.”
There was big, big potential for boos from the patient fan base going into this game after the Oilers looked like they decided to pack it in for the rest of the season with their pair of putrid performances on the weekend.
But some goaltending and a couple of power play goals, and players were actually having fun playing the game and the fans were getting their money’s worth watching them.
While one can never overstate goaltending, what was decidedly different this night was the power play which, with Chorney’s goal, ended a 0-for-25 streak of phenomenal failure over seven games at the back end of a three-for-83 run dating back before Christmas.
Edmonton won actual power-play faceoffs and moved people around aggressively and toward the net, instead of the passive, around-the-perimeter pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-go-back-and-get-it power play we’ve been watching here.
“It’s everything starting the power play with the puck,” said Renney of winning the faceoffs.
“We had a pretty good night on the faceoff on the power play,” he added.
“Nobody wants to skate back into your own zone to get the puck at the start of a power play. We moved the puck quick tonight. We were a lot less stagnant,” said Horcoff.
“There was a lot better movement on the power play. It seemed like we were on the same page on the power play tonight,” said Eberle.
Two actual goals with the man advantage is really that exciting?
They were home power-play goals No. 29 and No. 30 of the season.
In the end it was fun, fun, fun and even the fans who want the Oilers to finish 30th, to stack the odds in the draft lottery and end up picking Adam Larsson No. 1, went to bed happy.
The New York Islanders defeated Ottawa 4-3 in overtime on the out-of-town scoreboard.
The win hardly cost them any ground at all.
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