Edmonton Oilers a win away from their best start in 23 years

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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EDMONTON They havent all been artistic masterpieces, but the Edmonton Oilers are one win away from their best start to a season in 23 years.

Thats a prettier picture than many fans envisioned. With as difficult a schedule as there is in the NHL 10 of their next 11 games are on the road the Oilers are 4-0 as they open a three-game trip in Chicago on Wednesday.

While coach Craig MacTavishs team has been far from perfect on the ice, they are flawless in the win-loss column and can match the 5-0 start of the 1985-86 Oilers with a win against the Blackhawks.

Its important you find a way, MacTavish said when asked about his teams uneven efforts. Theres been one element in almost every game thats hurt us, but it hasnt killed us. Weve been able to overcome a negative element in each of the games and win, but we want to continue to get better.

Sophomore forward Sam Gagner, 19, wasnt born when the 1985-86 Oilers stormed out of the gate on the way to a 56-17-7 record and a Smythe Division title. Neither were teammates Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid, for that matter.

It might appear the Oilers have simply picked up where they left off at the end of 2007-08, when they put together a torrid 14-5-1 stretch in the final 20 games in a failed playoff bid, but thats not the case.

Outshot and outplayed in two of their first four games, the Oilers have parlayed exceptional goaltending by Mathieu Garon, timely scoring and a power play clicking at a 5-for-17 clip to four one-goal wins.

We know we can play a lot better, said Garon, who boasts a .941 save percentage through his first three starts.

Weve found a way to win and were going to take those wins because sometimes were going to play great and were not going to win.

Like any team adjusting to new line combinations and defence pairings to start a season, the question for the Oilers was how quickly they could settle in.

With the additions of Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky, the exits of Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres, Marty Reasoner, Matt Greene and Joni Pitkanen and the return of Shawn Horcoff, Ethan Moreau and Sheldon Souray from long-term injuries, the Oilers are a work in progress.

Weve had a few lapses, said Cole. Its certainly a good start, but we want to see what were capable of as a group.

Theres going to be a lot of different matchups and combinations. Not just in the course of a season or a week, but in any given game. I dont think the (5-0 record) is something were focusing on. We want to win games and play well.

Gagner doesnt have a point yet. The top line of Horcoff, Cole and Ales Hemsky is not up to speed. Neither is the trio of Moreau, Fernando Pisani, who is making the move to centre from wing, and Dustin Penner, who has shifted from left wing to the right side.

You cant win a playoff spot now, but you can certainly lose one, said Gagner. We need to continue to push each other to get better every day.

Organizations: Edmonton Oilers, Blackhawks, Smythe Division

Geographic location: EDMONTON, Chicago

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