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With Laraque gone, Oilers must demonstrate they're willing to drop the gloves
Dan Barnes, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Sunday, October 29, 2006


Edmonton / You never know when your team toughness will be tested, but you'd better know when and how to respond.

That was never clearer than in the last two Edmonton Oilers games.

By most accounts they failed the test in Phoenix, after Coyotes defenceman Derek Morris dished it out to Marty Reasoner in an early third-period scrap and nobody exacted any retribution, even in the dying moments of a 6-2 humiliation on the road.

"That particular situation we could have done a little more of it," said Steve Staios, who tried to step in to prevent the fight. "When a game gets out of hand like that, we have to respond. I saw us sort of respond in the third period, not to the point we should have. We were out of the game."

Conversely, in Saturday's 4-0 win over Washington, they passed the test with flying colours. Capitals goon Donald Brashear tried to goad Jason Smith into a needless bout on the undercard of a

Raffi Torres/Shaone Morrisonn scrap already in progress. Torres had run a Capitals defenceman into the end boards, Morrisonn took exception and the fight was on. Faced with Brashear's invitation, Smith declined. The Oilers were already leading and wouldn't risk a momentum switch.

"I thought that was a little uncalled for," coach Craig MacTavish said of Brashear's antics. "We never saw that out of him in all the times he played for Vancouver and we had Georges (Laraque).

"All of a sudden he's going to fight

Jason, which we absolutely didn't want to happen. Brad (Winchester) wanted to go out after him, which we also didn't want. He was asking to go. We didn't need Brashear to be able to put his best attributes on display."

There is a time and a place for everything, even a potentially one-sided bout with a heavyweight like Brashear. Kudos to Winchester for his eagerness, which may well have stemmed from the team's failing in Phoenix. Morris got the better of Reasoner but finished the game without any new scars, bruises or welts. Guilty by omission, the Oilers can't afford to let another bad deed go unpunished. Unless they're suddenly willing to allow their hard-earned reputation for toughness, and some of their less aggressive players' faces, to be sullied. And that's not the case.

"It's something we talked about after the game," Smith admitted. "We need to be prepared to stick together as a team. A part of our team doing well is rising to the occasion. It was one night. Through the season, guys have stepped up. It doesn't always mean fighting. It can mean being physical."

And, when the occasion demands it, being smart enough to skate away with the gloves still on.

"He was doing his job," Smith said of Brashear.

"It's an important part of the game, trying to swing the momentum. We had it. It wasn't time to get involved," Smith said.

How might these two situations have been different last year? Well, Brashear probably would have danced with Laraque Saturday, ending the heavyweight portion of the night's entertainment. But what about Phoenix? Too often Laraque failed to recognize an opportunity to stand up for a teammate. When it happened, he took the heat.

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