SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers hitting reset button

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

EDMONTON - If this team isn’t rockin’, then they’ll deserve some knockin’.

Well rested, playing at home and with the last of their injured players inching closer to health, the Edmonton Oilers are out of excuses and determined to make some noise down the NHL stretch.

They have been given a fresh start and if they don’t make something of it, it’s on them.

“That’s the way we’re looking at it,” said winger Taylor Hall. “We’re not going to quit by any means. Not one guy in this locker room is going to give up on the season.

“For all of us, we’re excited to have a fresh start and a fresh mindset and come back and do the best we can.”

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tom Gilbert and Cam Barker all expected back with a week or so, the Oilers will again have an opportunity to play at full strength — at least until the trade deadline, when a couple of bodies are sure to be moved.

In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead for what had been a sinking ship.

“There are not a lot of excuses for us moving forward,” said captain Shawn Horcoff, adding they need to concentrate more on the daily battles than an overall war that seems unwinnable.

“For us, it’s tough to look at the standings, we just need to focus on every game — we want to finish the season hard.”

After hitting rock bottom in mid January — booed off their own ice and bag skated by a coach who doesn’t even believe in the practice — they responded by taking three of four points from San Jose and Vancouver before the All-Star break. It’s a sign, they hope, that they might be on their way back.

“I can’t stand in front of you and dress up a tough year, it’s been difficult again for all kinds of reasons,” said head coach Tom Renney. “But if we stay to that (Vancouver) level of commitment and intensity and battle and execution … we’ll win more than we lose down the stretch here.”

They need to go 21-12 to finish over .500 in the NHL’s new math. A tall order, but it’s good to have goals.

“There are 33 games, and every one of them can be some kind of a message,” said Renney. “Internally, if nothing else, and even externally to the rest of the league and to our fans.”

HOW I SPENT MY VACATION: While most of his players jetted off to sunny climates, Renney spent his All Star break in a dark video room.

“Watched our games, watched the front end of our season, what we were doing well,” he said. “Watched our special teams. Watched other teams.

“I was down the hallway during most of the break. Where else should I be when we’re in 29th place?”

BARKER CLOSE: Barker (ankle) is expected to be the next injured Oiler back. He’s just a day or two away from playing his first game in three months. “I feel good,” said Barker, who stayed in Edmonton and put himself through two-a-day workouts during the break. “I’ll talk to the doctor and if he says it’s good, I’ll have another practice with contact and hopefully be ready.”

GILBERT ON THE ICE: Tom Gilbert (knee) skated with teammates for the first time and says he’s not far away, either.

“A little bit slow and a little bit sore, but that was to be expected,” said Gilbert, the victim of a Dan Carcillo cheap shot on Jan. 2. “They said four to five weeks and I think we’re on track.”

NUGE FLU BUGGED: Nugent-Hopkins missed practice with the flu on Monday and is still a week or so away. “It’s coming along,” said Renney. “He just needs to strengthen it and be sure of himself. Once he’s able to take the bumping I can give you a more accurate answer, but we’re not there yet.”

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