Are Canucks easy game?

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

In the end, they don't ask how, just how many?

For all their shortcomings - there were many in Thursday's yawn-inducing 2-1 shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets - the Edmonton Oilers have taken seven of a possible eight points in their last four games.

In a sure sign the bar of expectation has been raised, it's been duly noted that the Oilers leaned heavily on Jussi Markkanen before they got their act together and before J.S. Giguere lost it on Ryan Smyth and helped them to a 6-3 win in Anaheim.

Likewise, that it took a one-in-million goal by Chris Pronger with less than a full-tick on the clock to set the table for a 4-3 shootout decision in Phoenix last Sunday, giving the Oilers three straight victories as they jetted home to face the Blue Jackets.

CONTENTION FOR NORTHWEST DIVISION TITLE

For all that, and a swoon at home that's reached five straight losses and has the Oilers sitting with a modest 11-10-3 record at Rexall Place, they're still in a position to hit the Olympic break in contention for the Northwest Division title.

Overcome weary legs and beat the Vancouver Canucks - a team softened up by seven straight road games - tonight, and the Oilers not only win the season series, they just might provide themselves the jump-start needed to take a run at the Calgary Flames before all is said and done.

As worn out and unimpressive as they've looked at times, that's where the Oilers are at.

"It was a game where we didn't have our A-game and Columbus, quite clearly, didn't either," said coach Craig MacTavish. "It's a point, and they're not giving them away at this level.

"We'll take the point and move on and try to garnish as many points as we can from now to the finish."

As bad as the Oilers have been at home lately, they've found ways to beat the Canucks four straight times, including 5-4 and 7-6 decisions at General Motors Place that were wide open, wild and often sloppy.

"I wouldn't mind taking that after the game (Thursday). As long as we come up on the right end of the stick," MacTavish mused.

"From our perspective, we're going to have to play a game that's heaped in good defensive fundamentals to get the win and, hopefully, jump on them in a fashion we were unable to do against Columbus."

Jump. That's an ingredient that was lacking early against the Mighty Ducks and in the win at Glendale Arena, a game in which they didn't find their legs until the third period - despite getting a couple of days off after beating Los Angeles 5-3 at the Staples Center.

"Whether it's Vancouver or whoever comes in here, we have to put an emphasis on playing with more energy at home," Steve Staios said. "It's been a staple of our team in the past.

"We've got away from that here. We've got to find a way to crank it up. Other than the first few games here at home at the beginning of the season, we seem to play a pretty mellow game at home. We have to push the limits here."

COMPRESSED SCHEDULE

It's been suggested a somewhat compressed schedule to accommodate the Olympic break has something to do with the Oilers' lack of consistent spark. In reality, the schedule isn't as tough - in frequency of games - as it was in 2003-04.

The Oilers played their first 53 games in 121 days after opening against Colorado. In the season prior to the lockout, they played their first 53 games in 115 days.

"February has always been the toughest month I remember over my career," Michael Peca said of the grind. "It's going to be important to go into the break on a high and that means getting our game in order at home."

A win tonight is a start.

"If we can keep it going against Vancouver, it's obviously very good for us," said Marc-Andre Bergeron.

"We've taken seven out of a possible eight points and we're still getting some heat. It's a pretty good sign of what the expectations are."

Yes, it is.


Videos

Photos