WASHINGTON -- The NHL Trade Deadline hasn't given the Edmonton Oilers a lot of reasons to get excited over the past decade.
Usually by this point, they're looking ahead to the following season, and any pre-deadline moves being considered are mostly of the selling variety to acquire assets for the future.
With the Oilers in good position to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2005-06, their mood heading into the trade deadline this season on March 1 at 3 p.m. ET, is decidedly more upbeat, even after a 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Friday.
Although general manager Peter Chiarelli said last week, "I just don't see us being big [deadline] players," the Oilers are happy it's even a possibility that they could be adding players.
"It's definitely a better feeling," center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "Whether we do add or not, we have the confidence in here that we're a good team, we can play with any team in the League. Definitely in the past around this time of year you don't really want to pay too much attention, because we're always listed as kind of a seller. This year is obviously a little different."
Video: EDM@FLA: Nugent-Hopkins jams rebound into the net
Nugent-Hopkins, who will turn 24 on April 12, has been with the Oilers since 2011-12 and hasn't had a sniff of the playoffs before, so his enthusiasm is understandable. The Oilers are 33-21-8 and their 74 points already are their most since 2011-12 (when they finished the season with 74 points) and good for a tie in points with the Anaheim Ducks for second place in the Pacific Division.
More importantly, they have a 12-point lead over the fourth-place Los Angeles Kings in the division race. Barring a collapse, they will qualify for the playoffs for the first time since they went to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final as the Western Conference's eighth seed before losing in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes.
"We set out goals at the beginning of the season like every team in the League does," left wing Matt Hendricks said. "We're starting to achieve some of those. We're going in the right direction. We're where we want to be at this time of the season. We think our game can get better. Our team game needs to improve. We need to continue to climb the ladder, especially the way every team in this league is climbing right now."
Coach Todd McLellan has been watching to see how the Oilers respond as they get deeper into the season and the competition ratchets up. He said they're still pushing to consistently find the level they need to reach with the playoffs drawing nearer.
"We have some really good games and then we take our foot off the gas pedal," McLellan said, "and for me that's a little bit of immaturity, not age-wise, not professionalism or anything like that, but just having not been in this situation for many, many years when teams really crank it up. Over the last little bit, we've been out of it. So we're learning. That's why I still think we're a growth team. We're learning these lessons as we move forward.
"Some nights we respond real well. Other nights we're disappointed."
Friday the Oilers were disappointed with the outcome but not their effort. They thought they competed well against the Capitals, who lead the League with 89 points and have won 13 consecutive home games.
The game was tied 1-1 until Justin Williams scored 5:48 into the third period to put the Capitals ahead for good.
"We believe that we can play with the top teams in the League and we think that we can compete with them," McLellan said. "Tonight on the road in the middle of a long road trip we played against a real good team and pushed them right to the end. So we'll take that. Unfortunately, we didn't get the points, but we'll move on."
Although captain Connor McDavid picked up his League-leading 69th point with an assist on Leon Draisaitl's second-period goal, he was mostly quiet with the Capitals limiting the opportunities he had to use his speed. That's part of the learning experience for him and the rest of the Oilers, who had some trouble getting to the inside to create quality scoring chances.
"I think it's kind of uncharted territory for some guys in the room," Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot said. "Other guys have been there, some guys haven't. It's a great feeling to know you're in the mix this year, and to play these meaningful games coming into March and April is a lot of fun."
Talbot has been through this before as the backup with the New York Rangers from 2013-15. This is his second season with the Oilers, and he's encouraged by the progress they've made.
They are 2-2-0 on this six-game road trip that concludes with games against the Nashville Predators on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; SN 360, FS-TN, NHL.TV) and the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. After that, they play 12 of their next 14 at Rogers Place, which might get to host some playoff games in its inaugural season.
Regardless of what Chiarelli decides to do before the deadline, there figure to be some thrilling days ahead in Edmonton.
"Just coming to the rink now, everyone is excited to be there and you can tell the atmosphere at Rogers Place is unbelievable," Talbot said. "It's going to be a lot of fun here going home for the home stretch. We're home for pretty much the whole month of March, so coming down the stretch here is going to be a lot of fun playing in front of our fans and, hopefully, being able to clinch a playoff berth at home would be pretty special."