Queasy does it

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Not so long ago, the balance of power in the Western Conference was the domain of the Northwest Division. These days, though, it's more a case of parity in mediocrity.

That's good news for the Edmonton Oilers, who haven't managed to pull all the components of their game together for any significant stretch, but remain in the chase for top spot in the division as the Los Angeles Kings come calling tonight.

If they can bounce back from a stretch in which they've lost five of their last seven games and get it together with Ales Hemsky back in the lineup and Ryan Smyth on the way, there's no reason the Oilers can't prevail in a division that's up for grabs.

THERE WILL BE A WINNER

Somebody's got to win the damn thing.

"This year it seems to be there's always one aspect of our game that's not quite congruent with the other aspects of our game," coach Craig MacTavish said.

"There are games where we have trouble scoring but we defend very well. We lose because of a lack of offence.

"There have been some games where we're scoring, but not defending as well.

"We get great goaltending, but we can't get offence. We get offence, but the goaltending is off a little bit that night.

"I'm sure a lot of teams are saying the same thing."

Before salary cap concerns stripped Colorado and Vancouver of much of their depth, the Avalanche and Canucks were the class of the division, with the Oilers, Calgary Flames, pre-lockout Cup finalists, and Minnesota a notch or two down the pecking order but capable of pressing the issue.

As of today, there's no clear favourite to take top spot and claim the third seed in the conference and home-ice advantage in playoffs. Ninety points might get it done this season.

"We're sitting in an OK spot, but we know there's room for improvement," said Steve Staios.

"I think that's the focus for everybody right now, to get our team game and our confidence to a level where we hit our stride and start going into games feeling real comfortable about it."

Penalty killing has been the lone constant for the Oilers.

It's been very good - at or near the top of the league - for months.

The goaltending started out like money in the bank, but there have been holes in Dwayne Roloson and Jussi Markkanen here and there. Nothing like the can't-stop-a-beach-ball carousel that existed before Roloson arrived from Minnesota last season, but a handful of hiccups.

POWER PLAY STRUGGLING

With Hemsky and Smyth out, the Oilers power play struggled mightily. The injuries forced MacTavish to juggle his lines more than he usually does. He has yet to find combinations that work consistently.

Then, there's the obvious need for a puck-moving defenceman to fill the void left by Chris Pronger. GM Kevin Lowe, rest assured, is working on that one.

"With everybody healthy and playing the way we can, we think we're a pretty good team," said Marty Reasoner.

"When we get to that point, we'll see exactly what we have. We haven't had that much time where everyone was together.

"Hopefully, as we go later in the year, we'll get a little more chemistry on the lines we have.

"Hopefully, that will get us on a little bit of a run."

Despite the deficiencies, the Oilers are 18-15-2 as the puck drops tonight.

"We've said all along it's probably going to come down to the team with the best divisional record," said MacTavish, his Oilers 7-5-0 within the division.

"It's tight. We've kind of treaded water a little bit through some of these injuries.

"Now, it's important that we go on a little bit of a run or a big run ... I sense we're starting to get back to our game and we're capable of going on one right now."


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