EDMONTON - Every KISS fan in the world knows the band’s thunderous pre-concert introduction by heart: “You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the world …”
They should play that line for the Edmonton Oilers and their nervous but excited fans Thursday night at Rexall place.
Having posted wins over short-staffed Pittsburgh and Stanley Cup finalist Vancouver, and sitting nine spots above their traditional place on the Western Conference floor, the new-and-improved Oilers are searching for every measuring stick possible to gauge just how improved they really are.
Well, measuring sticks don’t come any bigger than the Washington Capitals.
They’re 7-0, lead the NHL in goals per game and they slapped the Oilers silly last time they met.
“It’s going to be a great test, they’re playing great hockey,” said Shawn Horcoff. “They’re 7-0 and coming off a pretty good beating of Detroit. We’re looking forward to it. You want to play the best and get a measure of where you are right now. Win or lose, you get a sense of where you are. Players like playing against the best in the league. It’s exciting.”
The Capitals certainly represent the deep end of the NHL’s pool. But the Oilers, even the young ones, aren’t blinking. At least not in the pre-game stare down.
“We want to go right at them,” said Jordan Eberle. “The moment you sit back and start to watch and see what they’re going to bring is the moment you’re in trouble. It’s death.
“You have to go right at them and push and make them respect your game. Vancouver was a statement game and this is another one.”
As it turns out, the statement they’re trying to make is rather different from the one the rest of the hockey world made on their behalf in September. It seems those predictions of a young mistake-filled team baby-stepping its way from 15th to about 13th don’t quite jibe with what the Oilers have in mind.
“We’ve had enough of that, enough of saying we’re an exciting team to watch but we’re going to finish in the bottom of the league again,” said Sam Gagner. “Enough is enough for us. We’ve gone through a lot of losing and it hasn’t been fun. It’s time to turn things around here and if we’re going to do that we have to be able to play with the best teams in the league and find ways to win.
“If you want to be a great team in this league, you have to beat the best. As a player you relish those chances against some of the best players in the league and one of the best teams in the league, but I don’t think we can be in awe by any means. We’re a good team here and when we’re on our game and playing well, we can be a great team. We don’t want to take a back seat to anybody.”
So it’s with great zeal that they’ll line up and attempt to do what seven other NHL teams couldn’t: beat the undefeated Capitals.
Whether that enthusiasm lasts 60 minutes or not remains to be seen — the Caps have a way of whipping it out of you — but it sounds like it’s going to be a beauty.
“I don’t know if you can say it’s fun, but it’ll be different than the kind of game we usually see against Northwest Division teams,” said Taylor Hall. “Everybody knows the star power they have. We know they bring a lot of elements that a lot of other teams don’t have.”
They bring enough to put Edmonton’s league-leading goals against average to the test.
And that’s good, said head coach Tom Renney.
“We have to play good teams to know where we are and how far we think we’ve come,” he said. “Not hope we’ve come, but think we’ve come.”