Refreshed and recharged the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in the shootout at Rogers Place on Saturday night following their first three-day break of the season. It was a much needed win after dropping a 3-2 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets last Tuesday. The Oilers were spent by the time the time the Jackets rolled into town and went about business, knocking off a team that had played five games in the previous seven days.
Playoff teams take advantage of a beaten down opponent. Now, there are no easy games in the NHL, but when you are facing a worn down team on the second-half of back-to-backs with some key injuries (i.e. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov), you need to win that game. And the Oilers did just that, improving to 16-12-5 for 37 points on the year and moved into a tie for second place in the Pacific Division with the Anaheim Ducks.
If the Oilers are going to become a playoff team this year, they need to win those types of games on a consistent basis. They had a great opportunity to put some points in the bank in late November with four straight games against three lowest seeded teams in the NHL; the Colorado Avalanche, a home-and-home with the Arizona Coyotes and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most Oilers fans expected the team to go 3-1-0, possibly even 4-0-0 during that stretch. Instead, they posted a disappointing 1-2-1 record, including consecutive losses to the Coyotes.
Edmonton doesn’t exactly have an easy road ahead for the rest of this month or through January and February. But if the Oilers can keep pace in the playoff hunt over the next two months, then they really have a chance to do some damage is in March when they play 11 of 13 games at home. Whether it’s a team that is below them in the standings or battling injuries like the Lightning the other night, the Oilers have to find a way to get two points.
If they lose to elite teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, or the New York Rangers, or the Pittsburgh Penguins, those are losses you can deal with (assuming the effort is good). Losses to teams like the Vancouver Canucks, or the Colorado Avalanche, or the Buffalo Sabres will not as by the fans base, nor should they be.
This is still a “growth team” as Head Coach Todd McLellan likes to say, and there will be bumps in the road. The Oilers are not going come away with two points in every “winnable game” this year, but if they beat the bottom feeders on a semi-regular basis, it will take some of the pressure off games like tonight when they take on the St. Louis Blues (17-11-4) on the road.
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