Burning sensation

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

You know a team is going good when members of the team are feeling good about themselves, when you see a pair of women's white figure skates, complete with pink skate guards, hanging in a player's stall in the dressing room.

And you know things are really going good when the player - in this case Marty Reasoner - arrives, takes a look at them and laughs.

And you know it's going really, really, really good when you throw a damning stat at the head coach before a big game and he doesn't snap.

"I know what the record is," said Craig MacTavish, but not in a snappy sort of way.

The record is the updated one you have read before every Edmonton-Calgary game since Darryl Sutter took over the Flames.

Since Sutter took over and made beating Edmonton Job No. 1, MacTavish has only one win in 13 games in regulation time - a grand total of three wins if you count overtime and shootouts in which the Flames have emerged with a point of their own.

The Oilers coach, like his team, came to the rink yesterday for the team's on-ice Christmas party after winning a wild and wonderful game the night before in Vancouver.

They came with a mood and attitude that something is happening here, that the team is making its move to becoming the reach for the top team Oiler fans wanted to believe they might be watching this year.

A POINT A GAME

With an 11-7-0-2 on the road and 6-1-1-2 record in their last 10, the Oilers have managed to get at least a point every game so far this month.

But that doesn't fool anybody around here.

To reach for the top, first you have to top the Flames. That hasn't happened yet.

Not in regulation.

And nobody knows this better than the Oilers head coach, who has seen a couple of early-season losses to the Flames send his team on a seven-game losing streak, and who keeps reading the papers on days like today and seeing the updated Darryl Sutter vs. Craig MacTavish statistic.

"Obviously, this is a huge game," said the coach, who could move into a tie with Calgary at 42 points with a win in this one. "This is a great test for us."

Calgary has two wins and a shootout loss to the Oilers so far this season. Take away those three games, and the Oilers are three points ahead of the Flames going into the game.

THE SAME MATH

But do the same math for the previous hockey season, and the Oilers would have made the playoffs and the Flames would have finished ninth instead of going to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

"We know the table is set for us if we just take care of business," said MacT of where they're at in the schedule, who they're playing and where they're playing 'em.

"Saturday night was great for confidence enhancement," said the coach of being down 2-0 and 4-2 and coming back to win 5-4 against the division's top team in Vancouver.

MacTavish has tried to sell a lot of things to his team in recent times. Belief has been the toughest thing to sell.

This team has been sitting around eighth and ninth place so long, they've come to see themselves as having season tickets for those spots in the standings.

But MacTavish says he can finally see them believe that something is happening here.

"The fans can feel it. There is an excitement in the building, an excitement of having a good team. It's the kind of excitement you want to have around a team. It's the kind of excitement which fuels a team.

"We're a pretty good team getting better. We have a level of confidence we haven't seen here in a while.

"We're winning games where we don't have to put all our players in body bags after the game. If you're going to win, you have to believe you can win.

"We have a sense of confidence in the room with this team I haven't seen before. You try to sell it. But you look in their eyes and see the disbelief in what you're selling."

Now MacTavish says he sees something else in their eyes.

"We believe we can win the division," he said.

That's what tonight's all about.

You can't believe that if you can't beat Calgary.


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