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PRINCIPE: Gimme a Break

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be off to the NHL All-Star Game in Columbus (photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)

It wasn't nearly as full a plane as it normally is after a road trip and return to Edmonton. From the U.S. capital to the Alberta capital. Washington to Edmonton. Players and coaches went many different directions.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' all-star break was spoken for and included spending time with the game's greatest players in Columbus. Taylor Hall went home to Kingston. Anton Lander and Viktor Fasth and many others tried Mexico. Some went to Cancun, others to Cabo San Lucas. Oscar Klefbom traveled to Minneapolis. Nail Yakupov spent it in Edmonton with his family. While Todd Nelson was also spending it with family only he was off to Oklahoma City.

Despite all the different directions — geographically speaking — they were headed in, this team is actually headed in the same direction.

Oilers will be flying different directions during the all-star break
(photo by Ryan Frankson / @EdmontonOilers)

Victories all count for two points but there are some that mean more. Washington was one of them. Not only did it give the Oilers back-to-back victories but it was the fashion in which it was done. Not once, not twice but three times Edmonton was behind by a pair of goals. Never quitting, they kept scratching their way back into the game until 60, then 65 minutes wasn't enough to decide a winner. A second-straight contest ended in a shootout and in Edmonton's favour. They turned away the 'Great 8' and company at home and saddled the Capitals with a third straight loss. There are a lot of sights to see in Washington but for Oilers fans this was a sight for sore eyes in the last game before the break.

Things are changing. On the ice, in the standings and in the room. This is a different looking squad. I would start with the new head coach as a very big reason for this sudden growth spurt. Since he took over sole possession of the bench, Todd Nelson is 5-4-2. 12 points in 11 games. 22 points in the other 36 games. That is a monumental jump. Multiply that over an 82 game season and if my math is right that's 89-90 points. That's short of a playoff berth but it would be down to the final week of the season before you'd hear the words 'mathematically eliminated'. Nelson will have 46 games from start to finish to improve his full-time possibilities.

You can see it on Sportsnet, watch it on Oilers TV, hear it on 630 CHED: this is not the same team. For all the criticism Craig MacTavish has taken and the criticism he has placed on himself and the organization, his 'tweaks' have paid off. Derek Roy is exactly what Edmonton needed. Experience and gamesmanship not to mention points (8 in 11 games). Rob Klinkhammer is strong, mobile and yes he is 'Klinkhammering' opponents. Matt Fraser has also pitched in with a couple goals and hasn't hurt the team. Little here, little there and the ingredients for the recipe are adding up to a much better tasting final product.

There's still a ways to go, maybe even a long way to go. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is slowly starting to look a lot less like a train. The Edmonton Oilers, when they return from the break, will have 35 games to prove their point: that what's happening is something to believe in and feel good about. They'll return refreshed and revitalized from the All-Star Break.

Ready to prove the franchise has a foundation to build on for a future with success.

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