Pronger back in November

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

Edmonton Oiler fans can circle Nov. 28th on their calendar.

That's the day Chris Pronger pays his first visit to Edmonton as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

They may also have to hold their breath for the last two weeks of the season as the Oilers finish the 2006-2007 campaign on a six-game road trip.

Yesterday the NHL released its 2006-2007 regular-season schedule.

The Oilers open their season at Rexall Place on Oct. 5 in the first game of a home-and-home series against the Calgary Flames. The teams meet again two nights later in Calgary.

"The tough thing for us is the last two weeks of the season," said Oilers assistant general manager Scott Howson. "Being pushed out of our building is tough, and it puts a burden on the team that we're going to have to overcome to finish the season with six road games.

"That's a burden, otherwise I think it's a pretty typical schedule for our team."

OPENS OCT. 4

The regular season gets underway on Oct. 4 with the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes hosting the Buffalo Sabres, the Ottawa Senators facing the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Dallas Stars squaring off against the Colorado Avalanche.

As was the case last season, Edmonton will play their division opponents eight times and conference rivals four times.

The Oilers play 10 Eastern Conference teams, hosting the Southeast Division and travelling to face the Northeast Division.

That means, the Washington Capitals, Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning are all paying a visit to Rexall Place.

Alexandre Ovechkin and the Capitals are in Edmonton on Oct. 28.

"I think that's a positive, you get to see some different teams," Howson said. "The Stanley Cup champions are coming in and Tampa Bay is a good team and Ovechkin, so that's a positive."

The Oilers, meanwhile, travel to face the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Maple Leafs and Senators.

There are no games against Atlantic Division opponents this year, meaning the Oilers will not face the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Oiler fans won't get a chance to see Sidney Crosby until the 2007-2008 season.

"It's just part of the NHL scheduling process," Howson said. "You're not going to visit two of the divisions out there and you're not going to play one at all. This year it's the New York division that we don't play, so that's just a fact of life in the NHL right now."

One part of the schedule the Oilers are pleased with is the number of times they'll be facing teams in the second game of back-to-back contests.

"We face teams that played the night before eight more times than teams facing us when we've played the night before," Howson said. "We've got a benefit that way and that always helps, that's a positive."

Of their 42 away games, 18 come via extended road trips. The Oilers have a five-game trip from Nov. 7-13, a seven-game trip from Feb. 13-25 and then finish the season on a six-game road trip.

The Oilers also have two extended homestands. They'll be home for seven games from Nov. 16-Dec. 2, then have another six-game homestand from March 15-24 before heading off on their season-ending road trip.

"We've always requested over the last three or four years that our road trips are in the four-, five-, six-game category and our homestands are in the four-, five-, or six-game category," Howson said. "I also think when you have extended homestands beyond 10 days or two weeks that gets harder, too, as the team might get stale. The players like the change and the constant movement, too, as long as you're not doing it every day, the constant back and forth. And in a location like ours, you can't do that.

PLEASED WITH BALANCE

"We do have to go on the road for extended periods, so I'm pretty pleased the way the road trips and the homestand worked out."

Finishing the season on the road puts a big onus on the Oilers final six-game homestand.

"Any game in March is going to loom pretty big the way the NHL is going, certainly the way our conference is going, these are going to be important games down the stretch," Howson said. "What we tried to do, given we were going to be on the road for the last two weeks was to try and get as many home games prior to that road trip and that was the balance that we got."

The exhibition season gets underway on Sept. 17 against the Phoenix Coyotes in Winnipeg. The Oilers will then play four home games and four road games prior to the regular season.

OIL INK HEJDA: The Oilers signed defenceman Jan Hejda to a one-year deal yesterday. Hejda was acquired from the Sabres for a seventh-round draft pick on Monday.

"We're pleased, we think he's going to be a part of our team and we were certainly hopeful once we made the trade that we were going to get him signed," Howson said.


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