SUN Hockey Pool

No divide in division

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

The further we go, the more the Northwest Division tightens.

Whether it's parity or mediocrity, none of the five squads have separated themselves from the pack.

The Calgary Flames were on top based on winning percentage points prior to last night's action.

Before Edmonton hit the ice late last night against the Canucks, a grand total of two points separated the whole division. By comparison, the Pacific had a 32-point span (Anaheim at 62 and Phoenix at 30) before last night's affairs.

"I'm not shocked," said Flames defenceman Andrew Ference. "People say they can't believe it but

I can believe it. It's a tight division, we're all pretty tight and we're all good teams.

"The biggest surprise is that nobody's gone on a bigger run than they have.

"We've all put together little streaks and whatnot but every team in the division is capable of going on a decent winning streak.

"Ours was six and that's not that extended. It's not bad but that's more surprising than how tight it is."

At least the Flames have a golden chance to spring themselves away from the pack.

Not only is tonight's New Year's Eve meeting at the Saddledome against the Edmonton Oilers (6 p.m., Sportsnet, FAN 960) a perfect way for any hockey fan -- regardless of what side the Battle of Alberta they're on -- to ring out 2006.

Being the second stage of a six-game homestand for a Flames club that's among the league leaders on home ice, it's a chance to begin the type of winning streak Ference is talking about.

Rattling off a winning streak as high as a half-dozen, a distinct possibility with the crew of clubs coming to town, would likely mean separation from the pack.

At least the club appears to be getting healthier. After going through much of the month with as many as six regulars out of the lineup, the Flames may enjoy a full top-six complement of defencemen with Roman Hamrlik appearing ready to return from his groin injury.

(Even better news, left-inger Marcus Nilson -- out due to a knee injury suffered Dec. 6 -- took part in yesterday's optional practice.)

The return of defenceman Andrei Zyuzin and left-winger Jeff Friesen for Friday night's clash against Los Angeles added a noticeable spark.

Zyuzin, who recorded four hits in his nearly 12 minutes of action, said he can feel a buzz.

"It's tough when you don't play for so long, almost what three weeks. The only way you can get in the game is to start with a couple hits," he said. "It feels better after a game we won."

ICE CHIPS:

C Dustin Boyd is the latest to take the Calgary-Omaha shuttle, going back to the AHL yesterday ... Edmonton's road penalty killing is by far the best in league, allowing only six goals in 95 chances over 17 games, an outstanding 93.7% ... With 49 points, Jarome Iginla was in fifth spot in the league's scoring race before last night's action ... The Oilers netted 15 shorthanded goals last season but their tally Thursday against L.A. was just their second of the season ... This season against Calgary, Petr Sykora has netted four goals and a helper in three outings.

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RECENT RESULTS FROM THE BATTLE OF ALBERTA

Results of the last eight Flames/Oilers tilts:

- Nov. 21, 2006 @ Edmonton: 2-1 Oilers

- Oct. 7, 2006 @ Calgary: 2-1 Flames

- Oct. 5, 2006 @ Edmonton: 3-1 Oilers

- April 1, 2006 @ Edmonton: 4-1 Flames

- March 16, 2006 @ Edmonton: 3-2 Oilers (OT)

- Jan. 23, 2006 @ Edmonton: 3-1 Flames

- Dec. 31, 2005 @ Calgary: 6-5 Flames

- Dec. 19, 2005 @ Edmonton:5-4 Oilers


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