Many happy returns

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:50 PM ET

If it doesn't kill 'em it'll make 'em stronger.

The last time there was an NHL, it killed 'em.

The Edmonton Oilers were destroyed by their games against the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche in the previous hockey season.

This year there are more of them.

This year there are eight against each including six of their first 10 games.

Tonight it's the Canucks.

Edmonton only managed two wins of six against Vancouver and Colorado and a win and a tie against Calgary the last season.

That's 5-13-1 against the Rocky Mountain High teams, in a division with an improved Edmonton entry which is now rated as the toughest in the league.

NO NEED TO DRAW A MAP

You don't need to draw anybody a map here.

"It's pretty obvious what we have to do,'' said coach Craig MacTavish.

"Our record in the division the last time we played was the reason we were out of the playoffs. We know that. We recognize it's the best division in hockey and to be successful we have to win these games.

"The way I look at it is this year we have a great opportunity to dramatically improve our record in our division,'' he said.

"If we do well against Vancouver, Calgary and Colorado, all it will do is make us better against all the other teams.''

How the Oilers play in these specific six games in their first 10 will go a long way to how the team sees itself going into the rest of the season.

"If we're to talk about winning our division, we have to be successful against these three teams. It would go a long way, from a lot of points of view, to do it early.

"It reminds me so much of the way it was with Calgary and Edmonton in the '80s. Our success in Edmonton very much inspired and motivated the Flames. We're back to that with our team judging ourselves with our success not just against Calgary but with the two other teams in our division.''

Colorado is making the transition of starting a season with a $39 million U.S. salary cap and doing it without Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and an injured Milan Hejduk. The Oilers play the Av-Nots three times in the first three weeks. They also play Calgary twice in that span. And this one against the Canucks, a team which kept all their stars and added some strength. If Calgary isn't favoured to win the division, Vancouver is.

"Calgary is getting a lot of attention and so they should, having gone to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. But Vancouver went to overtime in Game 7 against Calgary and finished first in the division,'' said MacTavish.

The Oilers won't see Vancouver again until Dec. 1. They'll play the Canucks three consecutive games, two of them in Vancouver, in late March.

Edmonton plays Colorado five times in the first two months.

The Oilers first three games against the Flames are all in Calgary including two five days apart this month.

Games 6-7-8-9-10 are Calgary, Phoenix, Calgary, Colorado, Colorado.

At the end of November the Oilers play Calgary, Colorado and Vancouver in consecutive games.

"It's great for the fans. The league wanted to create these rivalries and they've definitely done that,'' says MacTavish.

SOMETHING TO PROVE

Goaltender Ty Conklin knows he has something to prove personally against the Canucks. He had a ghastly game in the one which killed their playoff drive on the last game of the season and was in goal for the 6-0 loss to the Canucks in the final pre-season game.

"Last year they put the nail in our coffin. We know we have to do well against them this year. We also know if we do well early, it could really set us up for the season.''

Steve Staios says with all the early division games for the Oilers, playing smart may go as far as playing well.

"The key is showing that discipline with the new rules in the early games. We can't get into the penalty box. If we stay smart and keep the penalties down to the four we took against Colorado, we'll give ourselves a real chance to get off to a real good start.''

You get the idea.

The Battle of Alberta has been expanded to become the Battle of Alberta, B.C. and Colorado.


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