The Edmonton Oilers head out onto the road starting tonight for what is a 9 game, 16 day road trip.
Currently the Oilers are 7-7-3 on the season, and have been largely inconsistent since the start. The bad news is they are only a point away from being in 14th place, but the good news is they are also just two points out of the 8th spot. The road trip comes at a crucial time for the young team and could make or break the season in terms of being in contention for a playoff spot come late April. Many of the players are also approaching it that way;
“It should be a season-defining road trip,” said Taylor Hall. “One way or the other.”
The trip couldn’t start any harder either with their first game tonight against the NHL’s top team in the Chicago Blackhawks.
The road has not been a kind place to the Oilers in recent history, they went 14-23-4 last season and have gone 3-3-1 so far this year. It will be a chance to see what the 2013 roster is made of as there will be a number of things to test the character of a young team.
The grind itself of playing so many games in a short period of time, including two back to back situations will be tough, and finding the energy to bring it every night will be a challenge, especially for some of the younger players.
Another factor will be the fact that Ralph Krueger won’t have last change away from home which means match-ups could be an issue. The top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle will likely see some stiff competition over the next couple of weeks.
The team will also be missing Hall for tonight’s game, serving the final game of his suspension with him returning to the lineup for Thursday night’s game in Dallas.
One thing that works in the Oilers favour is the fact they have two goaltenders that have both been excellent this year. Devan Dubnyk has started the bulk of the games this season and has been very good seeing as much rubber as anyone in the league, with only a couple of poor starts to speak of.
40 year old Nikolai Khabibulin has been stellar in a limited role especially of late, starting 2 of the last 3 games and it looks like he will get the ball again tonight in Chicago.
The Oilers will need to rely heavily on both netminders over the next couple of weeks on the grueling trip.
For team with aspirations of being in the playoff hunt come the end of the season, this road trip will have a big say in whether that comes true or not. So far they have been plagued with inconsistency and haven’t put too many back to back good performances together this year. A good road trip could put them in good position with them coming home having gained some momentum.
On the other hand, a poor road trip could sink the Oilers before they even hit the half way mark and make it extremely hard to work their way back into contention.
The good thing is that as inconsistent as they have been to start the year, they are still only a game out of a playoff spot and they have a lot of games in the next couple of weeks. With their fate squarely in their own hands, they have the ability to make a run one way or the other.
Oilers fans are hoping it’s a run up the standings.
Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.