To pretend that tonight's game against the Florida Panthers was about much of anything other than Mike Comrie re-earning the respect and adulation of Oilers fans would be purely foolish.
If Comrie continues to play the way he did tonight he will win Oilers fans back in spades. Notching four assists in a shutout over the Panthers, Comrie left Oilers fans chanting his name.
Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising.
Part of the anger Oilers fans felt after Comrie's holdout (and subsequent trade) was derived from the fact that, as a hometown boy, Comrie is a player Oilers fans wanted to love. That Comrie could so casually make the decision that playing for the Oilers wasn't worth putting his pride second to the team certainly left a sour taste in many Oilers fans -- like a smitten high schooler embittered because the object of his affection won't date him if he isn't on the football team.
If Comrie maintains this blistering scoring pace -- six points (all assists) in two games -- Oilers fans will come to adore him again. Nothing wins over the Heartland like a winner.
Patrick O'Sullivan also continued his rehabilitation as an Oiler, Scoring a goal and assisting on a tally by Jean-Francois Jacques. With three goals and an assist in the preseason, his total through two games of play nearly matches what he accomplished in 19 games last season, when he scored six points throughout the crucial stretch drive.
Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Chorney had the other two goals for the Oilers. Ryan Stone had two assists and Tom Gilbert also chipped in a helper.
Next to Comrie's sparkling play, the other big story in tonight's game was the debut of Nikolai Khabibulin in the Oilers net. While not nearly as busy as Tomas Vokoun was for the Panthers -- Khabibulin faced 18 shots while Vokoun stared down 34 of 38 shots -- a shutout is precisely how one has to imagine Khabibulin wanted to start his career as an Edmonton Oiler.
If Comrie hadn't been so dominant tonight -- although the Panthers iced a lack-lustre lineup featuring only Brian McCabe, Jordan Leopold, Cory Stillman and Steven Reinprecht as notables -- Khabibulin's shutout likely would have been the big story. But, as has to date become thematic this preseason, the Oilers have shown they can emerge victorious over less skilled and experienced competition.
Tomorrow night's game against the Vancouver Canucks will likely be very, very different. Ales Hemsky and company will now face the task of continuing a (to date) undefeated preseason.