DENVER, CO - Before the Oilers departed for their five-game road trip, the message in the locker room was how important it would be.
Four games in and sporting a 3-1-0 record on the trip - gaining wins and divisional traction over opponents San Jose, Vegas and Arizona - the Oilers could reach the finish line with eight out of a possible 10 points when they pay Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche a visit at Pepsi Center.
Now, the message is to end strong.
"It's imperative," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said.
"We talked about not just the first three games of this trip, we talked about all the games on the trip. If we can play well, we give ourselves a chance to win."
The jaunt has seen everything from tight games to blowouts, support scoring to the Dynamic Duo continuing their dominance, and solid goaltending from both Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith.
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid continue their reign as the top two scorers in the League with 48 and 47 points, respectively, Markus Granlund has scored three times on the trip and Sam Gagner had a steady performance filling in for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins when he was sidelined with a hand injury.
"We're happy with the way the road trip's gone this far," Gagner, who had an assist against Arizona, said.
"At the same time, it's another important test for us tonight. This is a team (Colorado) that can do a lot of damage."
NEXT SAM UP
The Oilers have employed a next-man-up mentality the whole season, specifically on the back end, but when news came down that Nugent-Hopkins would be out with a hand injury for a minimum of two games, it signalled an opportunity for Gagner.
The line of Gagner, James Neal and Alex Chiasson proved to be a commanding one versus Arizona, with each player recording a point and positive plus-minus rating, as Edmonton came out victorious with a 4-3 shootout win.
That line was a unit once again at Wednesday's morning skate and Gagner, who has one goal and four points in 10 games in '19-20, is looking forward to suiting up.
The 30-year-old has navigated an up-and-down campaign, being assigned to Bakersfield earlier in the year but has since taken advantage of every chance he's gotten when called upon.
"I would like to be in the lineup every night and you want to be a contributor," said the Oilers 2007 first-round draft pick. "But when I'm out, I try to do a good job of controlling what I can control. That's my work ethic in making sure I'm staying ready.
"I've felt really good in every game that I've played and I just got to keep pushing forward."
Gagner described what made the trio effective on Sunday.
"We read off each other really well and because of that, we get to spots to get open and give each other releases," he said. "We did a good job last game of being in the right spots."
Jujhar Khaira took reps with Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald Wednesday at morning skate.
In his pre-game scrum, Tippett confirmed Khaira would be back in the lineup after going down with a hand injury.
"He's just a solid player," said the coach. "He was starting to contribute a little bit offensively, he's one of our main penalty killers so it's good to get him back in the lineup."
With Khaira's return, it appears as though Joakim Nygard will come out for the Orange & Blue.
Tonight's game is the second of three meetings between the Oilers and Avs this season.
The first game between the two sides occurred on Nov. 14 when Colorado visited Rogers Place.
Connor McDavid scored his sixth career hat trick in the match and notched six points while Leon Draisaitl dished five assists.
The season series will conclude on March 25, 2020, in Edmonton.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers critical five-game Western Conference road swing has been a major success so far, with the club owning a 3-1-0 record on it.
Edmonton picked up wins over three Pacific Division opponents - defeating the San Jose Sharks 5-2, the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 and the Arizona Coyotes 4-3 (SO).
The lone loss of the trip came against the Los Angeles Kings when the Oilers were downed 5-1.
The Oilers currently lead the Pacific Division with a 16-7-3 record and are third in League standings overall with 35 points.
Avalanche team scope:
The Avalanche are losers of two straight after dropping decisions to the Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs. Colorado is 5-5-0 in their last 10 games but has been a strong home team all season, going 6-3-1 at Pepsi Center.
Nathan MacKinnon leads the team in scoring with 14 goals and 19 points in 23 outings this season, while rookie defenceman Cale Makar is behind him with seven goals and 25 points.
The Avs expect to get a big boost on the weekend when they get forward Mikko Rantanen back. He has been sidelined for five weeks with a lower-body injury, scoring five goals and 12 points in nine games prior to the injury.
The Avs have been riddled by injuries this year, including losing captain Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Calvert, Colin Wilson, Erik Johnson as well as the aforementioned Rantanen. Since starting the season 7-0-1, the club has gone 6-8-1.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers 16 wins are their most through the first 26 games of a season since 1985-86 when they went 18-4-4. ... Edmonton's power play is clicking at 42.3 percent since Nov. 8, second behind Tampa Bay (43.4). ... Edmonton has also killed 93.1 percent of their penalties since Nov. 8. ... The Orange & Blue are 9-5-1 on the road this year. ... Leon Draisaitl has scored a goal in an NHL-high 51 games since the '18-19 season, while MacKinnon is second with 49 and McDavid third with 48.
OILERS - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (hand) is day-to-day; Matt Benning (concussion) is on IR.
AVALANCHE - Mikko Rantanen (lower body) is on IR; Gabriel Landeskog (lower body) is on IR; Colin Wilson (lower body) is on IR; Matt Calvert (head) is on IR; Erik Johnson (undisclosed) is day-to-day.