EDMONTON - Having Ryan Smyth in town may only have served to magnify the hole the Edmonton Oilers seem to be digging at the moment.
Tyler Arnason led the way with a goal and an assist as the Colorado Avalanche snapped a two-game losing skid with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers, helping Smyth make a triumphant return to Edmonton.
Jaroslav Hlinka, Wojtek Wolski and Brett Clark also scored for the Avs while Dustin Penner and Tom Gilbert responded for the Oilers.
Smyth, who left a trail of tears when traded from Edmonton last March before ultimately signing in Colorado, was held off the scoresheet.
But bigger for the Oilers than the reaction to a former player coming back is trying to regain some forward momentum.
Edmonton definitely made a game of it with some late pressure but the fact remains that the Oilers have lost six of their last seven to sit at 3-6-0 and have now lost all five of their games against divisional rivals.
"We need to win for sure against our division," said Edmonton forward Jarret Stoll. "If you don't play well against your division you're not going to look that good at the end of the year. It's a very good and competitive division and we have to come out stronger and play better against those teams."
Although it was another setback in the standings, Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish felt there was enough on the positive side of the ledger to balance things out somewhat.
"As a coach you never want to get into the habit of rationalizing the losses," he said. "We certainly feel that if we executed and played the game for 60 minutes we would have got the win. So we're disappointed by the result. But I'm not unhappy with the way that we played."
The NHL-worst Oiler power play was 0-2 on the night and is now just 1-35 on the season, less than three per cent effective. And the unit took another hit with the news that defenceman Joni Pitkanen is out indefinitely requiring arthroscopic surgery on his knee, joining fellow power play point threat Sheldon Souray (shoulder) on the injured list.
Meanwhile the Avalanche improved to 5-4-0 and, more importantly, finally captured their first road victory in five tries this season.
"We needed a win in the worst way," said Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville. "We were doing whatever we could to get a road win and probably played that simple, ugly hockey game with not a lot of chances either way."
Colorado defenceman Scott Hannan said it was an important victory in a number of ways for his squad.
"It was a big win," he said. "We needed it after a couple of games slipped away. We needed to get our confidence, get our first road win - and it was good to get the win for Smytty."
Smyth, who was given a standing ovation after a video tribute before the game and was visibly moved by it, said it was a night he'll remember.
"It was obviously very emotional," said the veteran of 11 seasons in Edmonton. "It's quite an honour to come back to the city where you started your NHL career and be recognized like I was tonight. The fans were great."
Colorado started the scoring midway through the first as Arnason picked the pocket of Oiler defenceman Denis Grebeshkov and went in on a two-on-one, electing to wire a wrist-shot to the top corner past Edmonton starter Dwayne Roloson.
The Oilers were able to knot the score back up a couple minutes later on an odd man break of their own as rookie Andrew Cogliano fed Penner and his quick shot beat Colorado netminder Peter Budaj.
The sold-out crowd of 16,839 were still cheering that goal when Colorado responded just 23 seconds later as a point shot by Jean-Michael Liles bounced out to Hlinka and he chalked up his first career NHL goal.
The Avalanche took a 3-1 lead into the dressing room with a late first period marker by Wolski. The left wing was able to sneak a puck under a sprawling Roloson, who was trying to cover up the puck with the bottom of his pad.
Edmonton outshot the Avs 12-4 in a mainly uneventful second period.
The Oilers were able to cut the lead back down to one midway through the third as Sam Gagner fed a pass off of Penner's skate to a pinching Gilbert who blasted the puck into the back of the net.
Clark scored an empty-netter with 18 seconds left to salt the game away for Colorado.
Edmonton hosts the Minnesota Wild on Thursday while the Avalanche close out their four-game road trip in Calgary on Friday.
Notes: It was the first of eight meetings this season between Edmonton and Colorado. Last year, each team won four times. ... With a first period assist Joe Sakic needs only two more points to become only the eighth player in NHL history to reach 1,600 career points.