CHICAGO, OCT. 26 -- National Hockey League teams often look at a trip to Alberta with some foreboding.

Forget that it's often frigid there. Forget that, aside from the Oilers, Edmonton is known mostly for having one of the biggest malls in North America.

It's the games that are often unpleasant. The Calgary Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989. The Oilers won it last spring for the fifth time in seven seasons.

Coming into this season, the Oilers were 280-100-60 at home. Calgary wasn't much worse at 406-200-112.

The Washington Capitals left here this morning for Alberta, hopeful that they have picked a good time to visit. The Capitals will visit the Olympic Saddledome in Calgary to play the Flames Saturday night at 8:05. Right after, they will board a bus for Edmonton, where they will play the Oilers Sunday.

The snow and cold haven't yet become a part of daily life in Alberta and, frankly, neither has winning. The Flames and Oilers played Thursday night in Calgary, with the Flames taking it, 4-2. But that victory only pushed Calgary's mark to 7-4. Edmonton, meanwhile, is in last place in the Smythe Division at 2-5-2. Last place? Only the Islanders, Sabres and Maple Leafs have fewer points.

It doesn't happen that often, but then the Oilers are missing their engine (Mark Messier) and a few key parts. Messier, who injured his knee last week, was the NHL's MVP last season, when he guided the Oilers out of the shadows of Wayne Gretzky and into the jewelry store for Stanley Cup rings.

Incidentally, Revenue Canada -- the IRS of that nation -- announced recently that it will be taxing those rings. The Oilers aren't thrilled.

Adding to their unsettled situation is the absence of goalie Grant Fuhr, who was suspended for drug use. He could be reinstated in February, but there is no guarantee. Glenn Anderson left the team amid a contract dispute and, although he has returned, is scoreless in the four games since. Jari Kurri, by now, may be fluent in Italian.

The Flames have a new coach in Doug Risebrough and many think his predecessor, Terry Crisp, was the only thing separating this unit from another Cup. Maybe, maybe not.

Goalie Mike Vernon's back was a question mark, but he is 4-2 so far this season. However, his backup, Rick Wamsley, has a broken bone in his hand. The power play is the best in the land, and Al MacInnis's 19 points are more than any other defenseman. But Gary Roberts, who had 39 goals last season, hasn't scored one in 10 games.

The Capitals tied the Flames, 3-3, in their one game in Calgary last season. They have won there just five times in 16 seasons. Washington has done better at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, where it has a 5-8-4 mark. Last season, the Oilers won twice at Capital Centre and Washington won in Edmonton.

To succeed on this trip, Capitals Coach Terry Murray said he thinks he needs to get more even-strength scoring from some of his regulars, such as Peter Zezel, Mike Ridley, Michal Pivonka and Steve Leach.

"We need someone to step forward," Murray said. "We had Steve Leach on a five-on-three power play {in Thursday's overtime loss to Chicago}, which is a tremendous situation for him to be in. But the bottom line is that you've got to get some points from an even-strength situation. That amounts to goals."

Thursday's loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Capitals. Since the start of that run, they have tightened what had been a loose defense and the goaltending has been good. Don Beaupre stopped a half-dozen excellent opportunities by the Blackhawks. Still, it would not be a shock if Murray went back to Mike Liut for the Calgary game and used Beaupre against Edmonton.

"Beaupre played a tremendous game," Murray said. "I couldn't ask for anything more in that building. It was vintage Don Beaupre."