Eastern flavour spices up Oil

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

If anything, it's a good omen for the Edmonton Oilers.

The last time they opened the regular-season against the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

The 2008-09 NHL schedule was released yesterday and the Avalanche will once again be first up on Edmonton's dance card.

"We're really happy with the schedule," said Oilers president and CEO Patrick LaForge.

"It's what we had hoped for. We wanted the schedule to be more balanced. We felt we were playing too many games against teams in our own division and not enough cross-conference games.

"We feel our fans are going to be really happy with this schedule."

The Oilers open their 30th anniversary season at home against Ryan Smyth and the Avalanche on Oct. 12.

PLENTY OF INTEREST

Three days later they'll go visit the Anaheim Ducks, which should garner plenty of interest considering the verbal volleys lobbied between Ducks general manager Brian Burke and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe earlier this summer.

The regular season will commence on Oct. 4 with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers playing the first of two games in Prague, Czech Republic. Later that evening, the Ottawa Senators will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm, Sweden.

There is also another outdoor game scheduled, with the Detroit Red Wings facing the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in Chicago on New Year's day.

The all-star game will be held at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Jan. 25th.

The Oilers, meanwhile, play every team in the league at least once. They'll face divisional opponents six times through the season - down from eight last year - and conference rivals four times.

As a Canadian team, the Oilers will also play two games against each of the Eastern teams in the country with the Toronto Maple Leafs in town on Nov. 13, the Ottawa Senators in on Dec. 30 and Montreal Canadiens in on Feb. 11.

"Having all the Canadian teams play here is really important," LaForge said.

"Not because fans want to come out and cheer the other teams, but more so because they love the rivalry. Those Canadian rivalries are the base metal of hockey. That's a good night in the building, and a big night on TV."

The Oilers will play all three Eastern-based Canadian teams on a road-trip in early March.

They'll also travel east to play the Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.

The Eastern Conference teams coming to Rexall Place will be the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers.

"The idea of playing every team in the league at least once is good, it's a step in the right direction," LaForge said.

"We think the league eventually needs to be balanced so we play everyone at least one both home and away. But this is a big step in that direction and hopefully eventually that will happen."

REDUCING

By reducing the number of games against divisional opponents, the Oilers are now able to play non-conference opponents 18 times.

This season, nine Eastern Conference teams will visit Rexall Place, up from five the previous three seasons.

"Every team in the league has great talent," LaForge said. "It's exciting when those players come to play in your building. The fans get really pumped up for that."

The Oilers regular-season schedule concludes with a home-and-home series against the Calgary Flames on April 10-11.

"We've had a lot of good news in the last little while," LaForge said.

"The only thing we wish for is that we had more tickets to sell.

"We're in the smallest building in the league and unfortunately we don't have more tickets to sell to all the fans that want them."


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