SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers: contenders or pretenders?

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:12 PM ET

SAN JOSE — The Edmonton Oilers want to consider themselves contenders.

This current road trip will go a long way in determining whether they can, or if they’re just California dreaming.

On Tuesday, the Oilers face the San Jose Sharks, then travel to take on the resurging Los Angeles Kings Thursday.

“They are two good teams, two teams that play very well at home, so they’re both going to be really tough games,” said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert. “I think our main focus has to be on a game-to-game basis and being able to go out there and get our feet moving against San Jose. That’s when we’ve been able to create the most chances against them.”

The Sharks have been part of the NHL elite since the arrival of Joe Thornton from Boston. The Kings are coming into their own, qualifying for the playoffs last season after an extended absence.

Both are currently in the thick of the playoff battle in the Western Conference standings.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are looking up at every team in the conference, but are just a short win streak from getting themselves back into the mix.

“I’m excited that we get a chance to play these types of teams, because it’ll give us a chance to see if we’re legitimate and that’s what our guys want to be,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney, who late last week said he expected his club to make the playoffs.

“These are two very, very good teams and they have our attention. We just have to make sure we take it one game at a time.”

The Oilers head into the Sharks game having won seven of their last 11 games. They have been idle since defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-3 on Thursday.

“As a player it’s always good to get a few days of rest,” said Gilbert. “It gives you a little boost of energy to go out there and reenergize yourself for this next stretch of games. I think it was great for us to get this little bit of rest.”

Due to the time off, the Oilers are expected to start Nikolai Khabibulin in goal against the Sharks. And even though they have a day between games on this trip, it’s possible Devan Dubnyk will get the call against the Kings.

“I’m certainly thinking serious about getting him back in,” said Renney. “He needs the experience too. There are others that are getting the opportunity to play at a young age. At the very least, we have to make sure we have an outstanding backup goaltender that can run with it if necessary. And you don’t get a chance to practice it if you don’t get them in the lineup.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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