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Oilers gearing for stretch drive

With 31 games left to go, the Oilers are preparing for the final stretch of the regular season

by Paul Gazzola /

Having played 51 of 82 regular season games, the Oilers are nearing the stretch drive.

The team comes back from the All-Star break rested and poised to continue working towards their goal of making the post-season.

Oilers forward Matt Hendricks, who's played 34 post-season NHL games, is familiar with the final stretch.

"We've come a long way so far but this is when the cream kind of rises to the top in terms of what teams are going to make the playoffs," Hendricks said. "This is when you want to be playing your best hockey and start ramping it up for playoffs."

For the Oil, the rest of the 2016-17 campaign sees long road trips and long home stands.

The squad will play nine of 12 games in February on the road, while in March the blue and orange suit up at Rogers Place for 11 out of 13 matches.

Then, the Oilers will end the season with seven games against the Pacific Division.

"I think we're in a good position obviously in the standings right now but there's 30 games, that's a lot of hockey and 60 more points to be taken," Hendricks said.

Like so often for many elite teams, coming together late in the season helps pave the way for late booms.

"There's successful teams [and] Stanley Cup winning teams that all play different systems," Hendricks continued. "It's the team that comes together at the end that plays it the best. I think we've had quite a learning curve this season, especially with our young group, but it's been a very competitive nature in here and guys are sacrificing and doing everything they can to learn how to do it and to do it to the best of everyone's abilities."

It clearly seems as though the Oilers have come to understand their system and bought into it. There's still new heights to reach, though.

"We're very confident right now," said Leon Draisaitl. "We've been playing some really good hockey. Now is the stretch where we have to keep that up or even get to another level. Hopefully we can reach that level."

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