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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

For the Money

With 35 games remaining in the season, the Edmonton Oilers can’t lock up a playoff spot in the next three games they play before the NHL all-star break, but what they do in this upcoming trio of home dates is going to go a long way in determining whether they’re in or out in a tightly-packed Western Conference.

Flaws and all, the Oilers come home to face the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings to close-out their pre-all-star break schedule tied in points with the Minnesota Wild for the second wildcard berth after Wednesday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks. A 23-21-3 record for 49 points, including a 3-1 record in the last four games, has them in the mix.

Now, if coach Ken Hitchcock can keep pushing the right buttons, if GM Pete Chiarelli can avoid weakening the roster with the moves we keep hearing he’s willing to make and if Oscar Klefbom can get up to speed in a hurry upon his return from injury, we’ll be in for the kind of drama, good and bad, the stretch drive was devoid of a season ago. The Oilers, to borrow from Hitchcock, have stayed in the fight — even if they’re still on the ropes.

With the latest edition of the Battle of Alberta, which actually has some teeth in it for the first time in a long time, up next at Rogers Place Saturday on Hockey Night In Canada — the teams split the first two meeting this season — the Oilers have a chance to put together a three-game winning streak for the first time since early December.

WHEN IT COUNTS

Dec 16, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Alex Chiasson (39) celebrates his goal against Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) (not pictured) with forward Connor McDavid (97) during the third period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s going to be like this the rest of the year,” Hitchcock said after Alex Chiasson scored the only goal in the shootout to settle things against the Canucks. “You’re going to be in a battle and there’s going to be a lot of emotional times . . . if you’re looking for great hockey with people pouring everything into it, you’re going to have a good time. To me, if you’re a fan of hockey, you’re going to love this.”

Of course, that’s exactly what fans around here want — well, that and an actual playoff spot after the bitter disappointment of last season — and I don’t have any doubt that’s what we’ll get. As inconsistent as the Oilers have been and as flawed as they are, I’ve already said, to guffaws from some you, I think they have enough to get into the top eight and stay there.

It goes without saying the Flames, riding high with 65 points and on a 7-1-2 roll in their last 10 games, will do everything they can to kick the Oilers in the teeth, which is how it should be. Fittingly, the Flames will likely have a hand in where the Oilers finish. After Saturday, the teams won’t meet until Edmonton’s final game of the season on April 6. At long last coaching in his hometown since taking over from Todd McLellan, Hitchcock knows that angle well.

“I was once part of a group that once felt like that,” Hitchcock said of the battle for provincial bragging right between the Flames and the Oilers the other day. “I don’t think there was even a person I liked one per cent of who lived in Calgary. I hated everything about Calgary, including the road . . .”

THE BOTTOM LINE

As somebody who cheers for the best storylines rather than the outcome, the Oilers are shaping up as a pretty compelling tale right now, from where I sit. How much will the return of Klefbom help? Will Chiarelli add to the mix by actually making a trade that helps or detract from what Hitchcock has to work with by getting stiffed in a deal?

Can captain Connor McDavid crank it up yet another notch, as he has in the second half of recent seasons, or will the minutes he’s played dragging this team along see him used up when the Oilers need him most with the money on the table? The same goes for Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is quietly putting together his finest season as a pro.

We wait.

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Previously by Robin Brownlee

      • BrandieBear

        I think it will be a closer game then flames fans expect. The flames have been out scoring their problems and if you shut down their main line it’s a close game. Flames goaltending has been sub par for a large portion of the year and if a team plays physical they don’t play the same way. It’s a toss up at this point I. All fairness. Both teams have strengths and weaknesses which we will have to see how they get exploited

        • Alfonso

          lol, I don’t think so …

          ………………….Oil ……………………………………………….. Flames

          2006-07′ … 71 points … DNQ ………………………………. 96 points – lost 1st rd
          2007-08′ … 88 points … DNQ …………………………..,…..94 points – lost 1st rd
          2008-09′ … 85 points … DNQ ………………………………..98 points – lost 1st rd
          2009-10′ … 62 points … DNQ ………………………………. 90 points – DNQ
          2010-11′ … 62 points … DNQ ………………………………..94 points – DNQ
          2013-14′ … 67 points … DNQ ………………………………. 77 points – DNQ
          2014-15′ … 62 points … DNQ ………………………………..97 points – lost 2nd rd
          2015-16′ … 70 points … DNQ ………………………………..77 points – DNQ
          2016-17 … 103 points.. lost 2nd rd……………………….. 94 points- lost 1st rd
          2017-18’ … 78 points … DNQ ………………………………… 84 points-DNQ

  • Redbird62

    Maybe this is early to ask, but because the Oilers CBA break is scheduled right after the all star break, is that extended 11 day break going to make it even harder for the Oilers to get back up to game speed. I believe teams are often sluggish after the CBA break, but will it get worse if it is even longer. It buys more time for Klefbom to be ready and maybe even Sekera, plus McDavid, Draisaitl, Nuge and Nurse can use the rest and I am less worried about at least 3 of them not being ready to go. When can the Oilers start practicing again? Is there a real opportunity for Hitchcock to really focus on implementing or improving upon some of the systems he wants to instill into the team? The Oilers start the stretch run in Philly after their break, but Philly will have played 3 games coming out of the All Star Game so they won’t be rusty.

  • Harry2

    How is Chiarelli wanting to add a top 6 forward for floundering prospects (JP and Yamamotto) and picks weakening the roster?

    If he can add a top 6 fwd with term for picks and prospects DO IT!! This would only strengthen the team I fail to see how it weakens it.

    • I see you posted much the same comment in another thread earlier today. Nothing wrong with wanting to win now, but the price could be prohibitive. What do you think a proven, young top-six winger with term on his contract is worth? Now, add the Chiarelli tax to that because the Oilers are not in a position to dictate anything. If it’s not a player with term, I’m not shipping out Puljujarvi or Yamamoto to get that guy. You have more faith in the GM than I do.

      • Gravis82

        Yes there is everything wrong with trying to win now because their definition of winning is getting into the playoffs.

        That IS NOT winning. That’s expected

        Winning is building a contending team for the cup for a decade and winking 3. I don’t see how trading blue chip prospects accomplishes this goal.

        Oilers can make this move is they win the division and want to push for a cup. If you don’t win your division what realistically is your chance at winning? Low. Could happen, but too risky to bet the farm just yet.

      • Harry2

        A young top 6 fwd with term makes edm a better team than JP/Yamo and picks. Thats the point I was trying to make.

        And im with you, I have zero confidence in Chiarelli but I also have no choice but to hope he pulls it off.

    • wiseguy

      We are conflating two different issues. Weakening the roster would be like trading Nurse for a forward that doesn’t live up to expectations. Trading Yamomoto and JP or the 1st pick would weaken the prospect pool and maybe the teams’ future, but it surely would not weaken the current roster for the playoff push.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    If there’s ever a game to win it’s this Saturday. Talk about a pivotal game on HNIC. Get the win and the winning streak hits 3 with very winnable games to finish up before the ASG. Lose and it feels like the Oilers aren’t a playoff team.

    I really hope to see some hatred from Looch and Kass on the forecheck. I miss the actual battle from the old battles of Alberta.

    • Redbird62

      That happened to guys like Hossa, Zetterberg and Ference in their later 30s. Sekera is just 32 years old. Very harsh to hope that he is physically washed up at that age. And its not something he can fake as a gift to the Oilers. Independent doctors would have to verify his injuries leave him not capable of playing NHL hockey. And if he is deemed unfit, he would be precluded from getting to play in places like the KHL or Slovakia for a number of years as well. I want the Oilers to ice the best team, but I would never wish ill on any player’s health for that sake nor would I consider the Oilers’ fortunate if that were to happen.

    • Randaman

      Are you confusing me with someone else? I live 700 miles away and don’t waste my money to make weekend trips for the Oilers anymore. Haven’t been to a game in two years and won’t go to another as long as the OBC is still intact which means never again.

  • Heschultzhescores

    The Flames are a very beatable team. The Oilers have owned them for a while now. I’d love a first round match up against them. Everything to gain, nothing to lose.

  • slats-west

    My favorite BOA chirps
    “Eff you – you’re the most hated player in the NHL” – T. Fleury

    “Yeah eff-off… you’re the most hated player on your own team” – W. Gretzky

    Bring it BOA!!!