SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers sitting pretty ... sort of

Edmonton's Sam Gagner celebrates after Jordan Eberle's goal against Columbus goalie Steve Mason...

Edmonton's Sam Gagner celebrates after Jordan Eberle's goal against Columbus goalie Steve Mason during the Edmonton Oilers game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rexall Place on Thursday. (CODIE McLACHLAN/QMI Agency)

ROBRT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:38 PM ET

EDMONTON - The ugliest part of the season is over, and the Oilers are sitting pretty.

As pretty as it gets, anyway, when the view is from 15th place in the West.

There is still a long way to go before they reach this season’s objective — a modest quest to still be alive when the snow begins to melt — but the mere fact they’re not dead yet is worth a holiday toast.

On Nov. 7 the Oilers limped into a marathon that included 20 games and 12 flights in 40 days, with 10 of the first 14 on the road.

That’s a rough stretch for any team, but for a rookie-laden bottom-feeder with an injured starting goalie and only one win in its previous nine starts it had funeral march written all over it.

And with one win in the first six games of the character test, hope was fading fast.

Yet here they are, six weeks later, having come out the other side in better shape than when they started.

“I looked at the schedule before it started and knew that if we could get through it, we’d be in good shape,” said Taylor Hall, after Edmonton beat Columbus to go 8-4-1 in their last 13 and finish the Terrible 20 with a 9-8-3 record.

“We’ve been playing some really good hockey with the exception of the two losses we had against Toronto and Vancouver. I’m not saying it’s going to be smooth sailing from here on out but it does get a little easier.”

Starting with a brief oasis. The Oilers, who had Saturday off from practice, are in a long-awaited and much-needed break of four days between games.

“A player like me isn’t fully used to a schedule where you’re playing every second day,” said Hall. “I’m used to playing just on weekends. It’s nice to have the four days. You have to use that time to recuperate.”

And he’s only 19. Imagine how the older guys felt playing every second night for six weeks (only five times did they have two days between games).

“There were a couple of road games that were tough,” said defenceman Ryan Whitney, adding even the off days were gruelling. “A couple of those off days were five-hour travel days, so they don’t really count as rest.

“I know, personally, there were a couple games where I was just ‘Oh Man, I’ve got nothing.’ I know against Vancouver I felt awful and a couple of other guys did, too. But we’ve got some days now.”

The players might be enjoying it more than the coach, though.

“Four days is probably one day too long for me but we’ll make the best of it,” said Tom Renney. “We can’t take our foot off the gas to the point that you’re at a standstill. That’s kind of what concerns me.”

The Oilers, after all, have a tendency to lose focus rather easily. He’s seen it happen after big wins and worries that sitting for four days might be trouble.

“If I have any kind of a fear at all this is it,” said Renney. “I don’t want to bottom out to the point that we have to go through a stretch of five or six games before we get our game back. It’ll be a good test for our guys.”

Now that they’ve passed the 20-in-40.

“We’re on our way to playing meaningful games in February and March and that’s all we want,” said Whitney. “We have to be playing in games that matter, give ourselves a chance to play in playoff type games, give yourself a shot, and we’re on our way.”

Follow me at Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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