Edmonton Oilers trying to walk a tightrope with skates on

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It’s hard to walk a tightrope with skates on.

With six games in the final nine days of the season and then maybe two days before the first round playoff series begins, the Edmonton Oilers biggest priority is staying healthy and conserving energy.

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But their other biggest priorities are to maintain forward momentum and win as many games as possible in order to possibly finish first in the Pacific and guarantee home ice advantage through the first two, and maybe even three, rounds of the playoffs.

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It’s not easy doing both at the same time, but that’s the fine line the Oilers are being asked to walk — don’t burn themselves out or get hurt but try to win as many games as possible in this nine-day test.

So far they’re 1-0-1 after the Arizona, soon to be Utah, Coyotes relocated Edmonton into the loss column Friday night at Rogers Place.

Oilers goalie Calvin Pickard kept his team in the fight long enough to come back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, but there would be no rebounding from a Matias Maccelli overtime winner.

“These games can kind of, at times, go under the radar as everybody talks about tomorrow (against Vancouver),” said Oilers forward Adam Henrique.

“I thought we did a good job of focusing on what we needed to do, but we didn’t have the best start. We battled and had opportunities, but we couldn’t find a way to get that next one to give us that extra momentum.”

This might have been one of those human nature traps — after beating Vegas last game and with Vancouver here for a major showdown on Saturday, it was easy for the Oilers to look past the 26th place team in the league.

“That’s a possibility,” said head coach Kris Knoblauch. “Last weekend we were coming off a great game against Colorado and went into Calgary the next night and it wasn’t nearly as well played as the previous night.

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“This time around the situation is reversed, with the big game the second one and the first one is just another game.”

The scheduling circumstances aren’t ideal on a lot of fronts, that’s for certain. The Oilers had games in hand on everyone all year long and have still played the fewest games in the league. For some reason the NHL wants them to make it all up in the last week.

“I don’t know why we’re playing five in seven to finish, but I guess that’s the way it worked out,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

“It’s definitely a lot right before the playoffs, but to this point you’ve already played 77 games so you’re in shape and can handle it. We’re still looking to improve our game and push for points. You don’t hold anything back, you want to push as much as you can.”

That’s the way Connor McDavid sees it. He sat out Friday’s game to heal his lower body injury but if it wasn’t for that he’s all for pushing through the finish line.

“We still have lots to play for down the stretch,” said the Oilers captain. “There is seeding and positioning, all while maintaining a healthy group. You want to be pedal to the metal, foot on the gas, all the way to the end and into Game 1.

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“I’m not really a big believer in resting guys. That being said, six games in nine days is a lot. If we rest guys that’s just the circumstances we’re in.”

Knoblauch is in charge of the work rotation and understands that while rest and recovery are valuable weapons at this time of year, shifting into neutral can be a risky strategy. Once a team loses momentum it can be a game or two before they get it back, and in a seven game series, one or two games is what separates the winner and the loser.

“If (staying healthy) was the only goal we’d be sitting everybody out,” he said. “Then you’re not playing your game and you’re getting into bad habits. We still have to go out and play some hockey.

“We will want to manage minutes and won’t be running guys into the ground. Hopefully they are fresh and feeling energized for the playoffs, but we want to win as many games as we can to finish out the regular season.”

Where is their game? Being 6-1-2 in their last nine, with wins over Colorado and Vegas suggests it’s in a good place, but there have been just enough hiccups, like Friday night, to keep them honest.

“It’s the NHL, everybody is still playing for something no matter where you’re at in the standings,” said Evander Kane. “A young team like that, they want to test themselves against a quality team like us going into the post-season and we knew that.

“It was a game where we controlled the second and third period but couldn’t find a way to put a few more past them.”

E-mail: [email protected]

E-mail: [email protected]

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