EDMONTON – While coach Pat Quinn is preaching patience, Oilers fans will have high expectations when their team opens the season against the Calgary Flames in Edmonton on Saturday.
Quinn is of the mind it’ll take time to implement new systems and mould the Oilers into type of team he envisions. But after three consecutive years out of the playoffs fans can’t be blamed for asking, “How much time?”
That’s an interesting intersection of expectations.
“I want our guys to understand our system of play, what the jobs are and the things you have to do, and then execute them,” Quinn said.
“That comes from practice as well. We’re not there yet, but we do want to have some emotion in our game. That’s an important thing, too. Hopefully, we’ll start games with emotion.”
After two weeks of training camp and eight pre-season games, Quinn has his 23-man roster in place – one that very much resembles the team that finished 11th last season with a record of 38-35-9.
What Quinn doesn’t have as the Flames come calling fresh from a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday is a team as cohesive as he expects it will be in time, one with a clear identity.
“It depends on your personnel and how they apply the assets they have,” Quinn said. “We won’t know who we are yet. We know we’re a team that didn’t make the playoffs the last three years.”
With 10 games in the next 23 days, patience and process will be pressed by the need for results and points in the standings. There’s not a lot of opportunity for the Oilers to feel their way into the season.
“You can win a lot of games in, probably, the first 15 games,” captain Ethan Moreau said. “If your structure and your team play is sound, you can steal a lot of points. “
“If your special teams are sharp, you can get really valuable points just by being more ready, so, hopefully, there’s not too much of a feeling out process for our team.”
Quinn, associate coach Tom Renney and assistants Wayne Fleming and Kelly Buchberger have revamped everything about the way the Oilers will approach the game. It’s not just a tweak here or there.
“Everything is new and everything has changed,” Shawn Horcoff said. “We feel like we’ve adjusted quickly to it, we should be able to go out there and show that we have, but, at the same time, hopefully they’ll be a little bit patient with us. “
“We’ve changed our forecheck. Our neutral zone is different. The penalty kill is different. Our support in the offensive zone is different. We’ve changed pretty much everything.”
The Oilers have two primary areas of concern as they prepare for the Flames. Their penalty killing ranked 27th last season, and they’re facing a Calgary team that scored twice on the power play in the victory over the Canucks.
“We want to get off to a good start, for sure,” Sheldon Souray said. “Fans will be excited and there will be a lot of energy in the building.”
“Collectively, we want to improve. We want to be better. We have a lot to prove as a team and as individuals. We’re looking forward to that challenge. We’re going to support each other. We’ve got a good room, a good group of guys, good coaches. We’re ready to move forward here.”
The other issue, while the Oilers sort out systems and linemates, is a home record that ranked 25th in 2008-09 at 18-17-6. Only Toronto, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay had fewer wins at home. The Oilers play seven of their first nine games at Rexall Place.
“You have to establish yourselves,” Horcoff said. “Obviously, we weren’t pleased with our record at home last year. You’re never going to be successful unless you can dominate at home.”
“It’s going to be an important start for us. It’ll probably go a long way to seeing how much pressure will be on us coming out of October.”