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With all five teams separated by only two points, nearly every game between Northwest Division teams is with first place at stake.

The Edmonton Oilers look to extend their slim lead atop the division Tuesday when they face the Colorado Avalanche for the second time in five days.

Edmonton (17-13-2) sits atop the Northwest with 36 points, but is only two ahead of Colorado (16-15-2), which is tied with Minnesota for last.

Owning one of the league's best home records has helped the Oilers into first. Only league-leading Anaheim, with 14, has more home wins than Edmonton, which is 12-4-1 at Rexall Place.

This will be the first game for the Oilers since they closed a busy stretch with a 4-1 loss Friday at Colorado.

"We played predictably lethargic," said Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish, whose team had played five games in five different cities in an eight-day span. "It's disappointing because I thought the game was there for us early."

Although they lost for the third time in four games, the Oilers did get some good news with the return of right wing Ales Hemsky, their fourth-leading scorer.

Hemsky, sidelined since Nov. 28 with a shoulder injury, had no points and one missed shot in just over 15 minutes of ice time.

"I wasn't too confident with the puck, (but) now I've tested it and I know what to expect in terms of the pain," Hemsky said. "It's sore, and it will be for another few months. I just have to get used to that."

Now that Hemsky is back in the lineup, the Oilers eagerly await the return of gritty left wing Ryan Smyth, the team leader with 16 goals.

Smyth, who has missed seven games with a broken thumb, is skating, but is not ready for game action.

"It's always good to have guys getting closer and closer to being healthy," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "I don't expect Ryan back for a while, but it was good that Hemmer got back and got in the game in Colorado."

Missing Smyth and Hemsky has contributed to Edmonton's recent power-play woes.

The Oilers are 2-for-38 with the man advantage in the past 10 games, a slump that has dropped that unit to 26th in the league.

Friday's victory over Edmonton gave Colorado three straight wins for the first time this season, but that streak was stopped Sunday with a 2-1 loss at Chicago.

After managing just 12 shots through two periods, the Avalanche registered 17 in the final 20 minutes, but were unable to get the equalizer past Nikolai Khabibulin.

"We had won three in a row and wanted to keep it going," Colorado's Milan Hejduk said. "It was very frustrating."

Colorado also got a key forward back in Marek Svatos, who missed Friday's game with a groin injury. Svatos has nine goals this season after tying for the team lead with 32 in 2005-06.

Although Jose Theodore played well Sunday, Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville likely will start Peter Budaj in this game. Budaj has allowed four goals during a personal three-game win streak.

Edmonton posted a pair of one-goal road wins in the first two meetings this season, but Colorado has taken the last two by a combined 11-4 score.

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