EDMONTON - It’s never good when the first step in a journey to respectability is directly into oncoming traffic, and for a few frantic moments there against Colorado, it looked like the Edmonton Oilers had one foot off the curb.
But those weren’t tire tracks on Devan Dubnyk’s sweater, just a lot of puck marks as the Oilers, despite being outshot 27-12 over the final 40 minutes at Rexall Place, withstood the Avalanche onslaught to post a 3-2 victory.
“A very solid 20 minutes,” grinned head coach Tom Renney, after the Oilers earned points in three straight games (2-0-1) for the first time since the end of their red-hot streak in October. “They came at us, we tightened up and they took advantage and attacked us. Dubie was good.”
With the modest bit of momentum they generated before the All-Star break a week old and starting to fade, the Oilers were desperate to pick up where they left off.
They almost had this one wrapped up after 20 minutes, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Jordan Eberle and Eric Belanger and hitting a pair of goal posts from close range, but it wouldn’t be that easy. Not with the Avs in a playoff chase.
Colorado closed it to 2-1 in the second, and when Taylor Hall made it 3-1 in the third, they closed it to 3-2 with 10 minutes to play and pressed even harder. Despite being outshot 15-4 in the third, the Oilers didn’t break.
“It was nice to get that one and hold on in the end,” said Hall. “Nice to get the win.”
It’s the first step in what they hope is a 33-game revival. It’s too late to save the season, but not too late to salvage their reputations.
“We have to prove to ourselves, that’s the main thing,” said Belanger, whose second goal of the season was his first in two months. “All the guys in this room, we have to make sure we prove that we belong in this league, that we’re not flukes, that we can play with anybody. We showed that in the last few games. We have to take pride in the second half.”
A win over San Jose, a shootout loss in Vancouver and Tuesday’s result are a modest few steps in the right direction.
“Playoffs are a little out of the question now, but for us we just want to do the best we can in here,” said Hall. “We’re going to get bodies back, that’s huge, and when we do we need to put wins together, put streaks together and see what we can do from there.”
There is still time to set a few modest goals between now and April.
“Tom put it a good way, just chip away at the team on top of us, try to knock them off, then go to the next one,” said defenceman Theo Peckham. “One spot in the standings at a time. You put the blinders on and keep marching ahead. I think we have the guys in here who want to keep pushing and keep working.”
If they manage to make something of the next two months, then they’ll be able to say the last two months were a simple case of the breaks beating the boys. If they don’t make something of these last two months, then the issues might be bigger than anyone wants to think.
“You want to show that this is not the way it’s going to be,” said Peckham. “You want to show it was a fluke, or injuries or growing pains. You want to show that we’re a better team than we are right now (in the standings).”
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“He wants to play on Thursday, but I don’t think that’s realistic,” said Renney, who wants to see him in at least one full contact practice, first. “If it’s not Wednesday it’ll be shortly after that.”