Saturday, February 11, 2017
Can The Oilers Hold On To A Playoff Spot?
That is all that stands between the Edmonton Oilers and their first playoff berth in 11 years.
If they can navigate these last eight weeks without any major stumbles, they’re in.
“It’s exciting. It’s the first time the Oilers have played meaningful hockey in February in a long time,” said captain Connor McDavid, as the Oilers returned to practice Friday after their last extended break of the season. “It’s something that we can be excited about and the fans can be excited about. We’re eager to get it going.”
With 27 games left and the Oilers sitting three teams and seven points clear of the playoff cutline, it’s not an absolute lock that they’re going to make it – ask the Atlanta Falcons if stranger things have ever happened – but their fate is most definitely in their own hands.
And that’s a good feeling.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good spot,” said McDavid. “We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Their push to the finish line – or starting line, to be more exact – begins Saturday when they host the Chicago Blackhawks. Right out of the box, it’s a big, tough game.
“The cushion that we created closed a little bit in the four games from All-Star break to this break, with us only getting two points,” said head coach Todd McLellan, who is a long way from comfortable even though it’s been over a decade since the Oilers were in this solid a position this late in the season.
“There’s no such word as comfort. We’re well aware of what’s going on around us and how much hockey is left.”
Twenty-seven games is a lot of hockey – and during the Death March days it always seemed like the season would never end – but it goes by fast when you’ve got something to play for.
“It’s tight, and it’s going to be tight for the rest of the season,” defenceman Oscar Klefbom said of the playoff push. “Every game is going to be so important. We have some big games coming up, so we have to be ready from the start here.”
The Oilers had their troubles coming out of their previous break, losing three straight to Minnesota, Nashville and Carolina after the All-Star weekend before beating Montreal in a shootout to end the drought. They scored just three goals in the four games and were shut out twice (2-0 against Nashville and 0-0 at the end of overtime in Montreal).
So there is concern that it might take time to get back up to speed this time, too.
“We failed once miserably coming out of a break, so we’ve adjusted some things practice-wise,” said McLellan. “And we expect the players to adjust a few things individually Saturday so we have a better opportunity at success.”
Because of CBA fine print, the Oilers couldn’t practice until 5 p.m. Friday, which didn’t help with the preparation. McLellan couldn’t run the team hard or he’d risk seizing up their legs.
“They’re going to be rusty, we expect that, so they’ll have to adjust their games a little bit,” he said. “Hopefully, we can put together a better effort than we did against Minnesota and be happy with the results.”
Because he didn’t have much practice time, McLellan decided to leave his lines the same as they were heading into the break, even though the chemistry wasn’t really working anywhere.
“We haven’t scored at the pace we wanted to, but I also look t the way we defended and we haven’t given up much, going all the way back to the Anaheim road trip,” he said. “Coming out of a break like this we’re going to stay with some familiarity and give these guys an opportunity to try and find a little more offence.”
After Chicago, the Oilers don’t play again until Tuesday, so it’s a stretch of one game in eight days, followed by a stretch of six games in 11 days.
Welcome to the NHL!
“We’re trying to figure out a five day break after a four day break,” sighed McLellan. “It’s just a confusing time for a lot of teams right now. It is what it is.”