SUN Hockey Pool

Hockey Day In Canada, a series to savour?

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

It was a Hockey Day In Canada which featured a flight of kids attending the game from Inuvik, more Calgary sweaters in the stands for a home game than any other in the 30-year history of the Edmonton Oilers and a Ford Small Star who gleefully admitted in a scoreboard interview to be cheering for the Flames.

It was also the Oilers giving a game away in the final seconds of regulation, almost giving it away again even more spectacularly with somebody making a line change with six seconds to play in overtime and a night losing a shootout without getting a single shot on goal.

The negatives of the Oilers 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames appeared to outnumber the positives at the end of the evening.

EASIER

"You can't make it any easier on a goalie in a shootout than we did," said coach Criag MacTavish of Sam Gagner having a puck stick to the ice before Robert Nilsson and Ales Hemsky failed to to get the puck off their sticks in the direction of the net.

Maybe you file that under "spit happens."

When Mike Cammalleri was allowed to break in home free because an Oiler left the ice was something else again.

"There were six seconds left," said Sheldon Souray. "Come on. That's a mental mistake."

And the goal by Matthew Lombardi with 65 seconds left in regulation?

"It was a nothing play. Really, a nothing play," said MacTavish of what he described as the "mis-execution" on that one.

But there were positives this night, too. And despite the ending, a lot of fans may have left the building seeing it as a whistle-wetter for the return of the Battle of Alberta in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Maybe a strange thought on a night when the Oilers went from being in a playoff position to being out of one, from eighth to ninth.

But while it wasn't the best-played game in the history of hockey in this province, the building was alive and there was a compete level by the locals which hasn't existed for many home games this season.

"Our compete level has really improved in the last couple of weeks but we still have to shore up the mental mistakes," said Souray of this work in progress which hasn't shown all that much progress.

From what we've watched so far this season, an Edmonton-Calgary series would not only be preferable from a point of view of being the one which would likely be THE series in the first round, the Oilers seem to match up a whole lot better with Calgary this year than they do with San Jose, Detroit and especially, for some reason, Chicago.

This is the time of year when teams in the final playoff position or two are looking to get some separation from the teams not in a playoff position.

That's not a problem with the Flames, who look to have a season ticket for third place.

OBSTACLE

But for the Oilers, who seem to be anywhere between fifth and 12th place depending on the day, it's a huge obstacle.

Now they can settle into part of the season where they can concentrate on securing a playoff spot and getting separation on Anaheim, Minnesota and Los Angeles.

The Ducks have four games to go on a six-game road trip. Minnesota is about to play 15 of their next 19 on the road, including one here Saturday.

Los Angeles is about to hit the road on a five-game road trip with another six-game trip on tap when they have to get out of the Staple Centre to make way for the world figure skating championships and a ridiculous total of only seven of their final 24 games at home.

"It's a good opportunity to look after our business," said MacTavish. "But we're going to have to do a better job than we did tonight to do it."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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