To put a hockey twist on an old axiom, the Edmonton Oilers went out like lambs in 2008 but looked like lions ringing in 2009 against the Dallas Stars at Rexall Place Saturday.

Beaten 6-4 by the Calgary Flames on New Year's Eve, the Oilers cracked a new calendar with one of their better performances this season in a 4-1 win over the Stars to improve to 18-16-3.

It’s not just that the Oilers won, but how they won. The Oilers deservedly maligned 28th-ranked penalty killing blanked Dallas on five attempts. Their ham-handed centres, ranked 29th in the face-off circles coming in, schooled the Stars, going 33-27 (55 per cent) on the dot.

More surprising, Dustin Penner, the easy-going behemoth who too often plays small, scored his 10th goal of the season and tossed Landon Wilson of the Stars around like a rag doll in a one-sided altercation. Yes, he did.

A new year, indeed.

“We talked about starting fresh, looking at this as a new year,” said Sheldon Souray, who scored the 2-0 goal.

“We talked about turning the page. We talked about looking at everything since Jan. 1 and not looking back at the penalty killing stats, etc. It’s a new year.”

Obviously, one game, especially one in which the Oilers were outshot 39-19, doesn’t constitute a turnaround. But, as they begin a stretch in which they play 10 of their next 13 games at home, it’s a start.

“We need to come out every night and show the same kind of enthusiasm," said Erik Cole, who opened the scoring and is starting to roll with three goals in his last four games.

“This is a key stretch of games for us to start building something, put some wins together.”

Until Ales Hemsky emerges from the concussion-induced fog he's in and declares himself clear-headed and ready to play again, the Oilers should be concerned. I know I am.

Knocked goofy on a hit along the boards by Jordin Tootoo against Nashville on Dec. 28, Hemsky came back to finish the game, but he’s since sat out three straight. Concussions, history shows too well, are unpredictable in terms of prognosis.

The latest Oiler example before Hemsky was Jarret Stoll, who saw his career derailed during the 2006-07 season by a concussion on a relatively innocent hit against Vancouver after initially getting buzzed by Sammy Pahlsson of the Anaheim Ducks.

Go back a bit further, and Paul Comrie had his career ended by a concussion during the 1999-2000 season while with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Comrie, like Hemsky, finished the game in which he was injured. He never played again.

The Oilers believe 2008 first-round pick Jordan Eberle of the Regina Pats is the best goal-scorer they've drafted in a very long time, and after his dazzling semi-final performance against Russia at the World Junior Championship Saturday, it’s difficult to argue that assessment.

In a decade covering the Edmonton sports scene, Robin Brownlee has been the
news-breaker and insightful voice for
sports fans in Oil Country.

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