SUN Hockey Pool

A measuring stick

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers are at a point in the season where every game counts.

Yet games against the Calgary Flames count more.

The Oilers host the Flames tonight at Rexall Place in the teams' sixth meeting of the season.

Heading into the contest, the Flames are five points up on the Oilers and tied for first place in the Northeast Division.

"Every night there is a sense of urgency that never dissipates," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "We all know the situation. It's three or seven points (difference in the standings).

"We know the implications of that. The way Calgary is playing right now, seven points with games wearing down are going to be hard to make up."

Yesterday MacTavish put his troops through their paces at Westwood Arena. The rock band Nickelback had dibs on Rexall Place.

NOT IMPRESSED

The Oilers bench boss was not impressed with his team's effort in their 4-3 shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday.

He's looking for a better effort tonight.

"We were collectively sloppy," said MacTavish. "I think as a player you sense that later than the coaching staff does. You could see some pretty significant erosion at times in our play offensively.

"You know as a coach if you are not getting the effort, you are going to struggle putting the puck in the net and you're definitely not going to get the result."

While the Oilers have struggled to string wins together of late, the Flames head into the contest having won three straight and seven of the last 10.

The Oilers are 4-4-1-1 in their last 10 games.

"Right now we are not enamoured with the way that we're playing and there are some pretty significant aspects of our game that are missing," said MacTavish.

"Maybe we'll get a good 60-minute effort (tonight) and turn it around. Calgary is probably the right team at the right time for us. We'll know very much where we are. There won't be any grey areas after the game is over. I just want us to go out and play a good, responsible hard-nosed game."

So far this season, the Oilers have played the Flames tough. They are 2-3 against Calgary heading into tonight's encounter.

They have scored five goals in each of their last two games against goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. And of the three games left against the Flames, all are at Rexall Place.

"We obviously want to do better than what we're doing," said Oilers captain Jason Smith. "We don't want to be struggling in seventh and eighth place.

"We want to move up in the standings and (tonight) is a starting point for that to get back on track and start moving things forward."

LATE THIRD-PERIOD GOAL

The last time the two teams met was a New Year's Eve encounter settled by Kristian Huselius' late third-period goal, giving the Flames a 6-5 victory. Prior to that, on Dec. 19, Fernando Pisani scored a late goal to give the Oilers a 5-4 win at Rexall Place.

"Who knows what happens when you play Calgary," MacTavish said.

"They're the best defensive team in the game and we get 10 goals in two games. We're playing pretty good defensively and they get six on us.

"It's almost impossible to forecast what will happen. The only thing that is reasonably assured is that it'll be a one-goal game and that it'll be decided late."

FIRST GOAL: They don't ask how, just how many.

By this time next year Georges Laraque can describe his first goal of the 2005-2006 campaign as an end-to-end rush lifted top-shelf over the goaltender without much dispute.

The fact Laraque's first goal in 53 games on Saturday was actually put in by Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Dennis Seidenberg will be an insignificant detail.

"I knew it was a matter of time and that if I kept working hard, it was going to come eventually," said Laraque.

"It's not something that I was thinking about every day. Other people were worrying about it more than I was."


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