Time for Oilers to get serious
ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
|Edmonton Oilers Ladislav Smid, Shawn Horcoff, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Kurtis Foster celebrate a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 29. Edmonton defeated the Blackhawks 7-4 ... the last time the Oilers won. ( Jonathan Daniel,Getty Images)
EDMONTON - CHICAGO — After spending most of October on the outside looking in, pressing their noses against the plexi-glass while the rest of the league got to dig into the season, it’s time for the Oilers to get busy.
And get serious.
They play 14 games and fly 13 times in the next 26 days, starting with a five-game road trip that begins Sunday in Chicago.
Their schedule reads like a season of The Amazing Race: Chicago, Carolina, Detroit, New Jersey, New York, back to Edmonton for two, then Anaheim and Phoenix, back to Edmonton for two, then Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.
It’ll be the toughest sledding Jordan Eberle’s ever seen, and here’s a guy who rode buses on icy winter roads in the WHL for four years.
“In the Western League you have division games six hours away by bus, so I think that prepared me pretty well,” he said. “But at the same time, travel in the NHL is tough, especially with the time changes, you’re not used to that. And the level of competition and the speed in the NHL is a lot tougher. You have to be able to take care of your body.”
Sitting last in the Western Conference, the Oilers are well aware that how they deal with the next 26 days will likely make or break their season.
“It’ll be a big challenge, and a big opportunity for us, too,” said Eberle. “The schedule has kind of been light so far. As a player you want to play and play and play. It’s good to practice, but everybody in this room is excited for this. It’s a good opportunity to get some wins.”
By the time they wrap up this grind on Dec. 3 they will have played 25 games, likely settling into the team they’re going to be all season. If they haven’t moved to within striking distance of eighth place, they probably never will.
“When I was in Boston for a (pre-draft) meeting with the Bruins they showed me a stat and after American Thanksgiving (Nov. 25) every year, seven of eight teams that are in the top eight at that point usually stay there and make the playoffs,” said Taylor Hall. “So this is a big stretch for us.”
They have a lot of catching up to do, given that they’re seven teams out of eighth right now
“For us, we’re not where we want to be right now,” said Eberle. “But I think the games coming up are a chance to get there. If you can get on a roll you can have a snowball effect and keep going when you’ve got a lot of games in a short time.”
“When a team gets hot and is playing every second night it’s a good thing,” added Hall. “If we can get on a roll and we’re playing a lot ... you see teams that get on a hot streak and win a lot of games. But if you’re not playing well, and you’re playing every second night, you don’t have a lot of practices to get yourself back on track. If we can get a few wins and try and keep pace on the playoff race, it should bode well for us because after that our schedule gets a little lighter again.”
If nothing else, three trips in four weeks should solidify the room, bring the overhauled lineup closer together as a team.
“It’s going to be a challenge physically, one of our toughest, if not the toughest road trip of the year,” captain Shawn Horcoff said of the five-gamer. “But I think it’s a good thing. It’s good early in the season when you have a young team and have some fresh faces to get on the road and spend 24-7 together every day. It really helps mould the team together.”