The Edmonton Oilers may be ready to hit their stride. Yes, those same Oilers that were facing another year down the drain and once again occupying last spot in the league just a week ago.
There is some good news for the young Oiler squad. With wins over Chicago and Colorado in their last two games on the trip, they managed to keep themselves in the running for a playoff spot and in the thick of the tightly-packed Western Conference.
The other good news is it looks like they’re going to have the majority of their bodies back. Just before heading out on the road, they got back winger Ryan Jones, who has been out since January with an eye injury. They also got back captain Shawn Horcoff and Teemu Hartikainen on the trip. Wingers Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky who also missed time, looked to be fully healed.
The remaining few members of the infirmary, Nikolai Khabibulin, Eric Belanger and Mark Fistric all seem to be on the mend. With Yann Danis being sent down to Oklahoma City, Khabibulin is expected to re-join the team on Friday. Both Belanger and Fistric do not appear to be too far behind, with Fistric being the closer of the two.
That also means decision time for Ralph Krueger and the coaching staff. When all three men return to game action, that will leave the team with 14 healthy forwards and eight healthy defensemen. At least one roster move will have to be made to accommodate them.
The team already put Ben Eager on waivers, and will have to decide whether they want to keep an extra forward or defenseman. The most likely candidate to go is Hartikainen, as he doesn’t have to clear waivers to go down; and with Magnus Paajarvi playing his best hockey, it’s doubtful he’s going anywhere.
It’s not a bad problem to have for the coaches, especially in the last couple of games where Krueger has featured a more balanced attack with three scoring lines. Last game, Hall played with Horcoff and Hemsky. Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had Jones on their wing, and Sam Gagner centred Paajarvi and Nail Yakupov.
Ryan Smyth centred the fourth line with Lennart Petrell and Mike Brown, but also saw some time with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins.
With two wins already going with a similar lineup, it’s hard to believe he would do much different Friday night against the Detroit Red Wings. With points so crucial and every game that much more important, the Oilers have to hang out to anything that has been working.
If they are able to build from the last two games, they may be putting themselves in a good position to make a run. The hard part of their season is now behind them, and they can make some noise over the next couple of weeks at home (seven of nine games) with a healthy lineup.
They currently sit 12th in the Western Conference, where only Chicago and Anaheim have separated themselves from the pack — just six points separate third from 15th spot in the conference.
The Oilers will need to build off of their last two wins and try and put some consistency together game-to-game and shift-to-shift — something they have been unable to do so far this year.
However, if there is any time to do it, now would be that time. The ability is there, now we will see if the proof is on the ice.