EDMONTON, AB - Another critical divisional matchup awaits for the Oilers on Saturday afternoon when the Arizona Coyotes pay a visit to Rogers Place before the club breaks for the bye week and All-Star Game.
Players and coaches alike have been chomping at the bit for a return to regular action following a packed three days off featuring plenty of practice time while watching teams around the league and in their division compete for vital points in the playoff race.
After Thursday's games and a 3-1 loss for the Coyotes in Vancouver on Thursday, the Oilers occupy the second Wildcard spot with 55 points and games in hand on the leading Pacific Division pack of Arizona and the Calgary Flames with 57.
The result made the division outlook even more packed than it already was, as the division's top five teams are all separated by two points.
"It is tight. It's going to be tight the rest of the year," defenceman Oscar Klefbom said. "It's fun when it's tight. Every point matters, especially in the divisional games. It's going to be crucial to be ready and get some points out of them. I think we're ready for tomorrow and it's going to be a fun game to play."
From here on out, the coaches and players aren't expecting any easy games.
"It's absolutely huge for us," Connor McDavid said on Friday. "It's a divisional game and our division's so tight. This is one of the teams we're chasing down. This is a huge one for us."
BYE, BYE, BYE (WEEK)
The month of January has been light for the Oilers with only nine games on the docket following jam-packed months of November and December.
Now, following Saturday's contest with the Coyotes, the Oilers will enter their bye week and wait 10 days for their next taste of hockey in the Battle of Alberta.
Make what you will of the time off in the middle of the season, it'll be a welcomed opportunity to rest the body and the mind for a playoff race that's projected to go down to the wire in the regular season's final 33 games.
"I think it's very individual, but what I can say is it's good for the player to take a break mentally," Klefbom said of the break. "Physically I think we're good to go, but mentally I think it's good to get a break from hockey and think about something else for a while."
"It's a long season, and what it looks like right now is going to be a race to the finish line. We have to take care of our bodies and be very professional during the break to go and have a good playoff push."
The positive vibes in the dressing room brought on by the Oilers 4-1-1 record in January are ones players and coaches want to extend into the break - something that can only be done with a positive performance on Saturday.
"I think any time you go into a break, it's important to go into it feeling good about yourself and about your team before turning off your mind a bit to get some rest," goaltender Mike Smith said.
"The bye week's been around for a few years now and guys know what to expect, but it's important we finish this stretch off on a good note."
It's the final game before an extended break, but they all count in the standings at the end of the campaign.
"I think we should handle this game like any other game," Klefbom said. "That's one part of being a professional and NHL player. If you have trouble finding motivation for games like tomorrow, you shouldn't be in the league I think."
PUSHING FOR POINTS
Tippett would like to be 20 points ahead by now, but he and the Oilers will settle for a place in the Pacific Division push.
Meaningful games are coming thick and fast for the club, but there's no way they'd rather have it.
"These are the games you want to play in," Tippett said. "It makes it that much more important when you step on the ice knowing every play and every point counts at this point. It's going to be a fight to the end with all the teams that are involved in the playoff race."
A tough stretch in November and December and a feeling-out period for players and coaches has been met with a positive approach in the new year from Tippett's group to right the ship.
"You continue to evolve. We had a tough December," he said. "The schedule was tough and we didn't play as well as we would've liked, so we came out of it with a real mindset that we have to get ourselves back in the game here."
The pat on the back, to the bench boss, goes to the players for their execution and helping achieve balance in the lineup.
"There's been lots of good practice, lots of good conversation with the players about how we're going to move this forward, and I give the players the credit," Tippett said. "They're the guys that have to go out on the ice and find ways to do it and win some games here."
"It's got us right in the race, which is where we want to be."
The Oilers lineup is projected to carry over from a 4-2 defeat of the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, with Mike Smith slated to make his fifth start in the last six games.
This is the third of four meetings between the Oilers and Coyotes in the 2019-20 season.
Arizona squeaked out a 3-2 overtime win against the Oilers at Rogers Place back on Nov. 4, 2019, and the Oilers repaid the favour with a 4-3 shootout victory in the desert on Nov. 24.
The two sides will conclude the season series on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Alex Goligoski leads both teams offensively in the matchup with three assists.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have two points apiece against the 'Yotes this year.
Oilers team scope:
Edmonton will look to head into their bye week and subsequent NHL All-Star Break on a positive note against the Coyotes on Saturday.
The Oilers recently returned from a five-game road trip that saw the club go 3-1-1, with the only loss coming against the Calgary Flames.
In their return to Rogers Place, the club doubled up the Nashville Predators 4-2 to remain in the heat of the Pacific Division playoff race.
Prior to Friday's round of NHL action, the Orange & Blue held the second Western Conference wild card spot with 55 points.
Coyotes team scope:
Arizona is coming off a 3-1 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks on the first of their three-game getaway.
The Coyotes enter Edmonton 5-4-1 in their last 10 outings and with a 14-9-3 road record, sitting second in the Pacific with 57 points.
Conor Garland tops all 'Yotes in goals with 16 while former Oiler and recently acquired winger Taylor Hall is the team's scoring leader with 39 points (12G, 37A).
Goaltender Adin Hill is 2-2-1 this season with a 2.52 GAA and .917 S%.
By the Numbers:
McDavid and Draisaitl continue to lead the NHL in scoring with 74 and 73 points, respectively. ... McDavid has an NHL-high 398 points since the '16-17 season. ... The Oilers Captain is on a six-game point streak when facing the Coyotes (6G, 4A). ... Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on a four-game point streak, registering seven goals and 13 points over his last 10 games. ...
Coyotes are allowing 2.56 goals against per game this season, which is third fewest in the NHL, while their .920 save percentage is second highest. ... Hall has six goals and eight assists in 15 games with the 'Yotes.
OILERS - Matt Benning (concussion) is on IR.
COYOTES - Brad Richardson (lower body) is day-to-day; Antti Raanta (lower body) is day-to-day; Barrett Hayton (separated shoulder) is on IR; Darcy Kuemper (lower body) is on IR; Marian Hossa (skin infection) is on IR.