SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers will try to remain out of circus

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Despite all the pomp, circumstance and probable tears surrounding tonight's contest, the focus remains the same for the Edmonton Oilers.

Ryan Smyth or no Ryan Smyth, the Oilers need a victory against the Colorado Avalanche to keep from sliding into an even deeper hole.

A goal on the power play wouldn't be too bad either.

"It'll be a little bit of a circus much like when Jason (Smith) came back," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"I don't know if it'll affect our team in the way that we play. We're not going to do much differently, it's obviously an important game for us to continue building the confidence that we started with here at home. We haven't had the success that we need on the road, but as long as you're winning at home you can overcome that."

WINNING HOME RECORD

As ugly as things have been on the road for the Oilers, they are 2-1 at Rexall Place. They began the year with impressive victories over San Jose and Philadelphia before falling to Vancouver in the first game of a home-and-home series.

In that loss, the Oilers out-shot the Canucks but ran into a hot goaltender and had some issues of their own in goal on their way to a 5-2 loss.

Traditionally, though, the Avalanche are a tough opponent for the Oilers at home and last year won three of the four meetings in Edmonton.

"They're a team that we've had maybe the least amount of success against in our own building," MacTavish said. "They've got lots of offence, they cycle the puck well, they follow everything to the net and they go to the net hard. So our defensive-zone coverage is going to have to be good and we're going to have to take some pressure off our d-zone by getting to the forechecks and executing plays through the middle of the ice to try and take some of that pressure off."

The Avs are coming off a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. They are led by sophomore sensation Paul Stastny who has 14 points through the first eight games.

Smyth, the former Oiler who's making his first appearance in Edmonton since being traded last season, has three goals and three assists this year. He'll garner most of the attention tonight.

"The game is always bigger than the cast of individuals that are in it," MacTavish said.

"We know that first-hand maybe more so than any organization. There are a lot of changes from year to year and this is just another one of those."

Having had Smyth on their side for so long, the Oilers are well aware of what he brings to the table. The challenge tonight is trying to keep him from doing what he does best in front of the net.

"You have to let the goalie deal with him," MacTavish said. "Ryan is going to be in that space and our goalie is going to have to fight for that space in front of the net.

"Hopefully we can create some contact and we'll certainly be pointing that out to the officials.

"Our goaltender has to have the space to do his job. He's entitled to that space, but we know with Ryan he's going to have to fight for it."

Heading into the contest, the Oilers are currently two points back of the Avalanche in the Northwest Division standings. It's the first of eight meetings between the two teams this season.

"We're not approaching this game any differently," MacTavish said.

"It's easy to heap on the pressure, but we have enough internally without trying to find external things like divisional games and things like that to keep the pressure on."

HEATED EXCHANGE

MacTavish was not too impressed with his team's effort Saturday in Calgary and let them know about it following the contest. He and defenceman Steve Staios were overheard having a heated exchange after the game.

"I try to have a game plan going in on how I'm going to conduct myself, but that's my second outburst (this season)," MacTavish said.

"It's an emotional game and you're always disappointed when you lose a game in Calgary. It was an argument, they come at times in this game and we won't make more of it, that's all it is."


Videos

Photos