'We're in the dog fight': Oilers coach confident on post-season despite team's streaky play
Oilers on pace for 85 points at halfway mark of the season
If there's a silver lining to the Oilers' win-one-lose-one season, it's that now — in the second week of January — playoffs are still part of the discussion.
Unlike too many painful seasons of the past, where playoff talk was over before Christmas, this year's Jekyll and Hyde squad is still in the mix.
Hear from Captain Connor about the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Oilers?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Oilers</a> facing Florida tonight as they return to <a href="https://twitter.com/RogersPlace?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RogersPlace</a> for a stretch of 6 of 7 at home before the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NHLAllStar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NHLAllStar</a> break. <a href="https://t.co/8PRwYVJE4B">pic.twitter.com/8PRwYVJE4B</a>—@EdmontonOilers
Hard to believe isn't it? Especially considering the team's abysmal stretch of late, going 2-8-0 in their last 10.
But despite a .500 road trip, which ended with a 7-2 thumping Tuesday night in San Jose, the 20-20-3 Oilers are merely three points from the final playoff spot.
"The last 10 games, frustration has set in sometimes and it's kind of taken over," said Milan Lucic, who snapped a 41-game goalless streak by scoring against the Sharks Tuesday.
"It's a matter of just sticking with it, staying positive and, like I said, eliminating those Grade-A chances against."
'A streaky team'
The team's top defenceman, Oscar Klefbom is more than a month away from returning after breaking his hand. Fellow blue-liner Kris Russell was just activated after missing 10 games.
Cam Talbot, who will start in net against the Florida Panthers tonight, knows solid goaltending will be the difference in the next seven games leading up to the all-star break.
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"We've been a streaky team this year," Talbot said. "If we can get some traction going here at home, especially on this home stand, and make this a tough place to play, then that has to be a focal point for us.
"I've got to go out there and do a better job of coming up with some bigger saves sometimes."
'We're right in the hunt'
The team plays six of the next seven games on home ice. Four of those teams are from the East Coast and two — Vancouver and Calgary — are teams the Oilers are chasing.
"I'm just enjoying the ride to be honest with you," coach Ken Hitchcock said after the morning skate. "We're in a dogfight with everybody. We knew that going in, but we're in the dogfight."
The team caught fire after Hitchcock took over going 8-2-1, but that magic has fizzled.
It's something the 66-year-old coach feels his young team can recapture.
"Man, we're 40-something games in and we're right in the hunt, it's a great time," Hitchcock said.
"I told the players that today we're put ourselves in a spot where we're in control of things. We don't need help, but we're going to have to really have to play because we're playing teams who are in the same spots and it's going to be a battle, a battle to the end."
'Not good enough'
Coach Hitchcock discusses the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Oilers?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Oilers</a> pre-<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NHLAllStar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NHLAllStar</a> schedule as they look to "make hay at home" over the next two weeks. <a href="https://t.co/QNB38Q0fAc">https://t.co/QNB38Q0fAc</a>—@EdmontonOilers
"Right now the Oilers are on pace to be at about 85 points, so not good enough," Sunil Agnihotri said, a hockey analyst on Oilers CBC Edmonton and a writer for Copper and Blue.
The only way the Oilers make the post-season is if something drastic changes, Agnihotri said.
He points to better goaltending or more players scoring could help push the team in come springtime.
"We kind of have to hope somebody on this team gets on a hot streak, or if the goaltending becomes lights out," he said.
"That's what's going to be driving the success on this team now."