EDMONTON - Mike Comrie couldn't have asked for a better hockey homecoming.
Comrie had four assists in his return engagement to Edmonton as the Oilers remained perfect in exhibition play, defeating the Florida Panthers 4-0 on Friday night. Comrie, a surprise free agent signing by the Oilers earlier this month after leaving the organization on bad terms in 2003, received a cheer mixed in with a few catcalls when his first assist was announced.
The tentative early response turned into a full-on Comrie chant in the third period, though, when he dropped the gloves in a fight against Eric Himelfarb after adding two more helpers earlier in the game, bringing his pre-season total to six points in two games.
The 29-year-old Edmonton native knew he had some work to do to win back the faith of the local fans and was thrilled to have so much support from them this early.
"It was pretty special to hear them chanting," he said. "It's always great to hear that but especially with what I have been through. I'm just thrilled. When I signed here it was something I hoped could happen. You never really expect that from a crowd.
"It's not a one game thing though. I'm going to have to work hard every night. They expect that from their players here and when they see it, they acknowledge it."
Oilers head coach Pat Quinn said that Comrie has exhibited a strong focus to this point.
"He is a guy who has not had some seasons that he is really happy with and he wants to prove to himself that he is still a good player," he said. "You don't play as well as he has and get the point that he has on the first couple of nights without concentrating on how you intend to play. He's off to a really good start."
Taylor Chorney, Patrick O'Sullivan, Shawn Horcoff and J.F. Jacques scored for the Oilers, now 3-0 in pre-season play.
Nikolai Khabibulin, making his first ever appearance in the Edmonton net, turned aside 18 shots for the shutout.
"It was nice to get the shutout but I wouldn't put a lot into it," he said. "It was still the pre-season and they didn't have their full line-up. But it was still a nice way to start my time in Edmonton."
"(Khabibulin) didn't get a lot of work but he was sharp when he had to be," said Quinn. "He handled the puck better than I thought and got it out of trouble several times. It was a good start for him. Any goalie would want to start that way."
The Panthers (2-2) were playing their fourth game in four nights.
Edmonton had the better opportunities in the scoreless first period, coming close on a couple of mad scrambles in front of Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun on a late power play and then coming within inches of a goal when Miroslav Lazo had a shot at an open net carom off the post.
Edmonton out-shot the Panthers 10-4 with Florida not getting its first shot on Khabibulin until 12 minutes into the opening frame.
The highlight of the first was a thundering hit by Edmonton's Jacques on Christian Backman, leading to a fight against Adam Keefe.
The Oilers broke the deadlock five minutes into the second period as a pair of rookies got into the action when Ryan Stone feathered a pass to a pinching Chorney and he beat Vokoun with a hard shot to the glove side for a 1-0 Edmonton lead.
Stone picked up a second assist less than three minutes later when Comrie sent a soft shot on the Panthers' net that O'Sullivan was able to tip en route for his third in exhibition play and a 2-0 Oilers lead.
Comrie was also instrumental in the Oilers third goal with five minutes to play and the Panthers short two men with Brian McCabe off and Jordan Leopold serving a five-minute major for cross-checking Gilbert Brule from behind. Comrie fed a perfect pass to Horcoff, who had an easy tap-in for his second of the pre-season.
Edmonton made it 4-0 on the same extended power play as O'Sullivan spotted Jacques streaking towards the net and he hammered home the puck.
There was no scoring in the third period.
The Oilers travel to Vancouver to play the Canucks on Saturday. The Panthers finally get a day off before playing in Calgary on Sunday.
Notes: Edmonton fans got their first look at Khabibulin in the contest. The veteran netminder signed as a free agent in July, replacing outgoing goalie Dwayne Roloson as the starter. . . Oilers defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky has finally been cleared by medical staff to play and may suit up in one of Edmonton's exhibition games on the weekend. Visnovsky suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in early February. . . The Panthers were playing their fourth game in four nights on a five-game Canadian road trip. Florida only plays one exhibition game on home ice. . . In the lineup for Florida was defenceman Martin Skoula, with the Panthers on a tryout basis. Despite only missing 15 games in his nine seasons in the NHL, Skoula has found himself fighting for a job this off-season.