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PRINCIPE: Back to Work

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers

It seems like just yesterday the Edmonton Oilers, or at least the few that came back with the team, were hopping off the charter flight in the Alberta capital at 2:30 a.m. on the morning of February 8th. They were returning from a four-game road trip with the final stop in New Jersey.

Here we are and the mandated Olympic break is about to be over and the Oilers will hit the ice at Rexall Place on Wednesday. At 2 p.m. everyone but Ales Hemsky, Martin Marincin and Anton Belov will reconvene for the final quarter of the season.

Taylor Hall took a seven-hour drive after the game in New Jersey. He hopped in a car with his dad, Steve, and made his way back to Kingston, ON. From there, Hall would end up in Cabo San Lucas for a little R and R.

He wasn't the only one as Justin Schultz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner, to name a few, also went to Mexico. David Perron also went home, but then made his way down to California. LA is where Dallas Eakins was for a couple of days before making his way to Phoenix for some family time. Nail Yakupov was also going to spend the break with his family. Wherever they went, whatever they did the Edmonton Oilers should come back to work in a good frame of mind.

Edmonton, despite the overtime loss before the break, is coming off their best stretch of hockey this season. They were 5-1-1 in their last seven games before the Olympic break.

It was a much needed stretch of consistent point accumulation to justify the time, effort and patience they’ve put into winning. Moral victories get old fast. You never tire of real ones. The turnaround can be pointed directly to the play of the goaltenders.

If it isn't the spectacular work of Ben Scrivens, it's been the steady saving of Ilya Bryzgalov. Scrivens has been nothing short of sensational. He has backstopped three wins in his last four games, allowing six goals on 171 shots. Bryzgalov, while not in such a highlight reel fashion, is 2-0-1 in his last three games. Goaltending has sparked the turnaround.

Along with being backstopped to success, it appears the Oilers are getting more and more comfortable playing in tight games decided by one goal.

The panic button is getting smaller and smaller as they get bigger performances with the game on the line. In fact, the Oilers have been in 21 games decided by a goal. Eight, they have won, seven they have lost in overtime or shootout and eight have been lost in regulation.

That is a sign of growth, and we’re seeing that in individuals as well, namely Nail Yakupov. His sophomore season has been full of ups and downs but right now it's on the way up. He has six points in his last seven games. Fitting in well on the number one line with RNH and Taylor Hall, his much maligned +/- has slowly started to fall. Since he was a healthy scratch January 16, and 17, the Russian winger is +2 in the last eight games.

The final 22 games will provide many storylines. The organization will look to the building blocks it will continue to use in regaining respect and results. The sound of skating will be a welcomed noise on Wednesday. After a vacation to rest the body and mind, the Edmonton Oilers will be back to work on shaping the remainder of their season.

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