SUN Hockey Pool

Doin' some streakin'

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

The sky is the limit. Or the sky is falling.

"There's winning or there's misery," is how Ryan Smyth puts it.

If there's ever a season which looks like it's going to be settled by streaks and skids, this is it.

Off what we've watched so far, the throw-a-blanket-over-'em teams in the NHL's Northwest Division are going to settle the most competitive division in hockey by who streaks longest and skids less.

Tonight the Oilers take a four-game winning streak - the longest in the league at the moment - against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Edmonton goes into the game tied for first in the division with the Minnesota Wild with identical 12-8-1 records, two points up on the Calgary Flames and three ahead of the Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche.

One of those teams is going to win the division and open the playoffs at home. Two more are likely to finish in the playoffs and open on the road and the other two will probably finish ninth and tenth.

The Wild, a team which opened with a six-game winning streak and won nine of their first 10, has hit the skids with a three-game losing streak. They've lost seven of their last nine and fallen back to the pack.

Calgary just had a six-game winning streak stopped by Edmonton after skidding out of the gate.

"If you can go on a 10- game streak or go 10 or 13 games with one loss, it's going to go a long way at the end of the year to where you end up in the standings,'' said coach Craig MacTavish.

Smyth says it's going to be a horse race.

"The division is really tough. I think you'll see teams jockeying back and forth right to the end. I think the key is to be as consistent as you can be throughout the year. It's a tough thing to do. And it really helps when you get yourself on a streak.

"That really helps the confidence level in the entire dressing room. When one line has a bad shift, the next line goes out to re-energize it. It's good that way when you have the depth. When you get on a winning streak, it's a lot of fun to come to the rink. You have a lot of fun with each other. And you play loose. You play the game better when you're having fun.

"When you're on a losing skid, you're pinpointing every little thing and the focus is on the negative stuff. And then there's you guys,'' he said of the nattering nabobs of negativism in the media.

The Oilers have already been on a mini three-game winning streak this year, but the difference between this one and the first one (which was followed in short order by a four-game losing skid) is they're playing better.

Oh, they can't get the puck out of their own end, there are half a dozen guys who still haven't got their year in gear, and you can make a fairly lengthy list of 'Things To Do' for both MacTavish and GM Kevin Lowe.

"There's the belief that when we get our game together we'll be real strong. But we're on the right path,'' says MacTavish, who takes a 9-2 record at home into the game tonight.

"Right now we have more players playing well than we did when we went on that mini run,'' he said.

MacTavish isn't superstitious about streaks to the point where he won't change his shorts.

But he says he won't change one thing.

"Look at the starting line-up the last four games,'' he said.

"So Roli in goal again then?'' asked Sun hockey writer Robin Brownlee.

That broke up MacTavish and an entire media scrum.

Dwayne Roloson in goal again.


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