EDMONTON, AB - Darnell Nurse put it simply.
The Oilers upcoming five-game road trip is as crucial as they come.
"We were talking about it a little bit before this," the defenceman said. "This is obviously our biggest trip to date, and could potentially be one of those you look back on at the end of the year as a difference-maker."
When you look at the specifics of their upcoming five-game swing, you can understand their line of reasoning.
Four of the five meetings come against Pacific Division opponents, with the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes all looking to knock the Oilers off their pedestal as the top team in the division at 13-6-3 through 22 games before the Oilers wrap things up against the Colorado Avalanche on November 27.
Video: RAW | Nurse 11.18.19
Not to mention that if teams around them hadn't been performing well early on in the season, they're starting to gain traction.
"That's the thing. You can't take any games off and any shifts off because it seems like the teams around us are starting to play better," defenceman Kris Russell said. "We have to make sure we don't worry too much about them and execute our game plan, making sure we really bring it on this road trip because this is big. We're playing some big divisional games and those are points we need."
But here's the other thing. The Oilers believe they're also on the up, with the potential return of Adam Larsson on the blueline being a big boost to a dressing room that isn't prepared to rest on its laurels at the quarter mark of a young campaign.
"That's the thing with our team - we know that we're in a good spot right now, but we need to continue to grow our game in order to outperform the other teams so we're in a good position come March," Nurse said. "I think with an 82-game season, as the season goes on, teams get better and better. So you have to match that pace or outperform that pace so you're in a good position to make that count at the end of the season."
Head Coach Dave Tippett was pleased with 85 percent of the specifics of his team's performance in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday, but it was the remaining 15 percent that let the team down in the game's little details.
The bench boss wants to see that number creep as close as it can to triple digits, which makes a road trip packed tight with crucial divisional matchups even more vital.
Video: RAW | Coach Tippett 11.18.19
"You're never going to get to a perfect game, but that's why this trip is so important. It'll test us, because if you're not playing to your capabilities, you're probably not going to win games," Tippett said. "I think we've added some good stuff as a team in just how we play as a team. Obviously our top-two guys have been really good, but if you look at the rest of our game our goals against is good, our PK's been good, our goaltending's been good, and a lot of little factors that are less heralded but have actually gone alright for us."
"We've got to continue to build on some of those things, continue to build our team game, because I think that's going to sustain us long term."
For the Oilers, it all starts in the same Shark Tank where a week earlier they were handed a sobering 6-3 defeat after the Sharks smelled blood in the first period with three goals in the opening 11 minutes.
"They're a team that took it to us last time we were in their building," Nurse said. "We have the opportunity to come back and play in the same arena a week later with that bad taste still in our mouth. It's good for us and this is a huge road trip we have coming up."