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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Mother of All Months

After tonight’s game against Winnipeg, the Oilers have 17 games remaining on their schedule, 16 of those will take place in March before wrapping up against the Flames on April 4th.

Playing 16 games over 31 days in March will be no easy task for a team that’s struggled to stay healthy and the list of opponents doesn’t make it any better. The Oilers will only face three teams that are essentially out of the playoff race, Chicago, Ottawa and Anaheim (twice) and even with that being said outside of that Ottawa game I wouldn’t classify any of the others as sure-fire wins.

THE BREAKDOWN

With so many games on the schedule, it’s not surprising that the Oilers will have back-to-back days off just once between now and the end of the month, which means very little practice time for this team the rest of the way.

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They only have two back-to-back situations, which may not concern them too much considering the success they have had in the second half of those situations this season. They are on the road in Nashville and Dallas to kick off this week and then mid-way through the month, they go back-to-back against Washington and Philly.

HOME AND AWAY

The one thing I kind of like about the schedule is that it only involves two road trips, both of them being three gamers. The Oilers start the month with three games in four days with visits to Nashville, Dallas and Chicago. They then return home for four in a row before heading back out to face the Flyers, Caps and Sens with the game against Ottawa being their third in four days. Following the second road trip of March, they actually return home for six in a row to wrap up the month.

As long as the first half of the month isn’t a complete disaster, their playoffs hopes or positioning will likely come down to games at home against Tampa, Anaheim, Colorado, San Jose, Anaheim and Vegas.

THE RACE FOR FIRST

The Oilers aren’t completely out of the race for first in the Pacific but if they have any hope of finishing in the top spot, they will have to win both of their games against the Golden Knights. The good news is that both of their games against Vegas are at home and they will have a day off before both.

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BATTLING FOR POSITION

I’m actually a little bit surprised to see that of 16 games they have on the sked in March only four of them are actually against teams the Oil are battling against for position, both in the division or the wild card race.

Nashville has thrust themselves into the wild card race since making a coaching change. Winnipeg, while being inconsistent, have managed to remain right in the thick of it and then, of course, the two games against Vegas, assuming they just don’t run away with the division.

THE RACE FOR THE ROSS

In addition to watching the standings very closely, we will continue to keep tabs on Leon Draisaitl’s push towards an Art-Ross. Edmonton will have five games against teams in the bottom third of the league in goals against, seven against middle of the pack clubs and four against teams currently in the top ten in goals against average, those being the Stars, Avs, Blue Jackets and Islanders. Three of the four games against the stingy teams will be at home for Draisaitl. We also need to keep in mind that Connor McDavid could go supernova and steal the title away from his buddy.

MANAGING THE CREASE

I’ll be very interested to see if Dave Tippett eventually decides to roll with either one of his goalies on a more consistent basis. Mike Smith has started 34 games to Mikko Koskinen’s 31 and has been getting the nod more often as of late. With only a pair of back-to-back games, it’s not unreasonable to think Tippett could get away with riding the hot hand but I’m not so sure he will. He’s done an excellent job this year of finding starts for both guys.

I’m going to say the most starts either guy will get is ten, likely Smith, but even that may be a stretch.

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PREDICTION

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I’m going to optimistically say they’ll go 9-6-1 for 19 of a possible 32 points in the final month of the season. The most important thing for the Oilers will be to get everyone healthy and then, if at all possible, keep it that away for the rest of the season. At this point, post-deadline, we don’t have any idea of how good this team can be.

At the beginning of every year, for at least the 10 I’ve been in the market, Oilers fans have been asking for meaningful games in March, this year you’ve got them, enjoy the ride.

Previously by Dustin Nielson: