Let the stretch run begin.
Its back to business for the Edmonton Oilers following a five-day break for the NHL All-Star Game and the team has its sights set on reclaiming a spot among the top eight in the Western Conference.
Prior to tonights game against the Sharks, the Oilers have 50 points – four behind Minnesota for the eighth and final playoff spot with a game in hand. A little further up the ladder, however, is the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks at six points ahead. The Canucks are seventh and the Flames are third by virtue of being division leaders.
Last season after 48 games, the Oilers were five back of the division lead and in fourth place in the Northwest with 56 points. Vancouver and Los Angeles each had 61 but ended up missing the playoffs while Anaheim (51 points) and San Jose (50 points) made it in comfortably when all was said and done.
The moral? Theres still a lot of hockey left to be played but the winning has to start soon.
"Were very capable of putting a stretch together," noted head coach Craig MacTavish. "Were ready to do that right now."
The Oilers didnt exactly light the world on fire with their play in March and April last year but the importance of every game down the stretch and the fact they were able to grind out the eighth and finall playoff spot prepared them for what was to come in the postseason.
"Going through what we did last year in a lot of ways helped us when we got to the playoffs. Especially against Detroit in the first round, I thought we were playoff ready," said Shawn Horcoff
. "Its not a situation you want to be in every year but its where we put ourselves. Obviously we need to put a good stretch of games together here to get back in it."
Jarret Stoll also noted the importance of the situation but was quick to point out that the team has found their backs against the wall before and will be able to handle whats coming.
"Every year Ive been in here weve been battling to get in," Stoll stated. "We understand were out of it right now but we feel if we play consistent over the next few months well get in for sure."
The all-star break was a great opportunity for the team to heal some nagging injuries and take some time to refocus on the task at hand – namely, the final 34 games of the season.
"I think you can say that about 29 other teams, too," said MacTavish. "Its a grind and everybody looks forward to the few days off. I think its been a good physical and mental break. I think well see the quality of the product on the ice improve, certainly from our perspective."
January was a difficult month prior to the break with the team completing a stretch of 10 games in 19 days. The club acquitted itself well with a 5-3-2 record but welcomed some days off with a seven-game February road trip looming.
"Its a long season, a lot of games," remarked Petr Nedved. "Any time you can grab a little break its a big advantage. Rejuvenate everybody and recharge the batteries."
Joffrey Lupul was also glad to get some days off to recoup mentally and physically.
"Absolutely. Its always nice to have a break, especially when you have some injuries and things arent going as well as you like," he said.
"It was a welcome break for us and now weve got to come out of it with some extra jump."