After the face plant

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

If there's a bright side to getting spanked in the final dress rehearsal before opening night, it's that the sting doesn't count in the standings.

But the cheeks are still plenty red.

So while an embarrassing 6-2 loss in Vancouver, to a team that didn't even dress Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi or Mattias Ohlund, didn't cost Edmonton any ground in the standings, it sent an important message through the dressing room.

"You never blow off a result like that," said GM Kevin Lowe, who isn't willing to shrug off the lopsided pre-season finale as meaningless. "We came unglued. But we had enough veteran guys in there that it could end up being the best thing - instead of going in there and beating those guys, we got it handed to us and now everybody jumps to attention."

If the Oilers didn't know it before, they know it now, after first-hand looks at Calgary and Vancouver - nothing in the Northwest Division is going to come easy. And with 24 games, almost a third of their schedule, against the Flames, Canucks and Avalanche, success against those teams is vital.

IT'S THE BAROMETER

"How we play against those teams is going to be the barometer," said Lowe, who isn't even sure if a .500 record against the division will get you into the playoffs. "But I like to think that if you're good enough to be .500 in our division, you're probably beating the other teams, so you should be all right."

Calgary made it to the final in 2004 and was picked by Sports Illustrated (long known for the attention it pays to hockey) to finish first overall this year. Lowe says Vancouver's the team to beat.

If the Canucks have a perceived weakness, it's in goal, which gives them something in common with the Oil. Ty Conklin has let in 11 goals in his last two starts, five against the Flames and six versus Vancouver.

"No, I'm not (worried)," said Lowe.

"Yeah, they're going in right now, but the thing about him is he's a battler. Unlike some goalies that might have fragile confidence or get sheepish, Conks is one of those guys who gets pissed off. He'll will himself into it.

"He actually made some great saves in Vancouver, not unlike the other night in Calgary. But we were a disaster in front of him. We've seen Conks; we know what he can do."

Lowe and the coaches, meanwhile, met for several hours yesterday to discuss today's final cuts.

"We're still humming over them," he said. "We're pretty close, but we're going to sleep on it. We've also got a couple of injuries that we have to see about."

Centre Marty Reasoner took a shot off his foot in the final pre-season game and will go in for X-rays today.

If its broken, it would open room on the roster for another forward. Either way, a decision on junior age forward Rob Schremp will have to be made eventually.

SCHREMP TRAILED OFF

After a good start in training camp scrimmages, Schremp trailed off against full NHL lineups (he led the team in giveaways - four - in the 5-0 loss to Calgary and was -1 in five minutes of ice in Vancouver).

He's not quite ready for prime time, and if they could send him to the minors, the problem would be solved.

But they can't. It's either the NHL or the OHL (or NHL for nine games and then OHL). So Lowe has to decide if he'll benefit more in an NHL environment or on a weak London Knights team.

"That's a difficult one," he said. "His skating has to get better, but does it get better back in junior or by staying here?"

If the answer is here, the Oilers must then decide if the difference is development.

And Schremp's ability to contribute to the Oilers while developing is valuable enough to burn off a year of NHL service (making him an unrestricted free agent at 25 instead of 26).

"We'll sleep on it one more night," said Lowe.


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