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What’s the difference between the Edmonton Oilers going 16-0 heading into the NHL all-star break to settling for flirting with .500 one month out of it?

Look no further than the goals-against.

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Unable to score themselves out of a funk that has seen them go 5-5-1 over February heading into Wednesday’s game against the visiting St. Louis Blues, the Oilers went from allowing no more than two goals against in 14 games prior to the end of the 16-game win streak to surrendering no fewer than three in the 10 games to follow.

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They finally stopped the bleeding — or at least curtailed the flow — in a 4-2 win over the L.A. Kings on Monday. But the goals-against average between the two spans is a glaring 1.29 to 3.82.

“When we played against L.A., that’s a really good team,” Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “For us to be able to play better structurally and more committed on the defensive end, I think that was a big reason why we won that game. So, I think it’s definitely a performance and an effort that we can duplicate.”

Locking it down. Limiting opponents’ chances. Playing safe rather than sorry.

“That’s what this time of the year is all about, there’s not many of those free-wheeling, open-up types of games,” Nurse said. “I think every team is preparing to play the same way as the calendar gets later into the year. And for us, that’s what it’s going to take to win here down the stretch.”

For the defence, it comes down to familiarity, continuity and accountability as they strive to get back to the same consistency that’s led to their most successful stretch of the season.

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“Not just partner to partner, but the whole group is set, so there is a lot of ownership in our group and a ton of cohesion,” Nurse said. “And I think every guy in there really cares about the guy beside him and I think that’s been a huge part of why our D-core has continued to grow and be better and better as the year’s gone on.

“There is that level of commitment to each other and all the amount of work and sacrifice we’ve put in side by side.”

But it takes discipline, Nurse added.

“That’s what makes teams good in this league, if you’re able to bring it day after day,” Nurse said. “And I think when you look back to the stretch where we did win lots of games, you could probably look at a few games and say those could have got away from us and that there were some big moments where we were able to win.

“And there have been some stretches here since we’ve gotten back from the break where there’s been big moments where we weren’t able to make the defensive play or offensive play to put the game back within reach. So for us, I think it’s staying committed in the belief we have in the group and the guys next to us. I think that’s been huge to get us to this point in the season where we’ve rode the highs and lows of the season, to both extremes, it feels like.”

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The Oilers could have, after all, decided to pack up the proverbial tent and fold the season following a franchise-worst 2-9-1 start that led to a coach’s firing. Instead, they mounted a comeback that saw them climb back into a proper playoff position — one they intend to keep, if not improve upon as they sat tied for third in the Pacific Division with the Kings prior to Wednesday’s puck drop.

“So, for us to look at the whole picture and not just a week or a game at a time and see that our group has done a lot of good things,” Nurse said. “And defensively, you paint the same picture and create the same process of wanting to check the right way, more nights than not you’re going to get the right result.

“And I think that’s just our focus here.”

When they have time to think, that is.

After closing out their February schedule Wednesday, the Oilers will prepare to open March with six games in a span of nine days.

“It’s been nice actually, if I can be honest,” Nurse said. “In the beginning of the year, we’ve had five-day breaks and three-day breaks, four-day breaks all sprinkled in. So, this has been nice just to go out and play and get into that rhythm.

“When you get to the middle of the season, people call them the dog days and they can feel like every day just piles on top of each other. But I feel like we’ve managed it and handled it, now I feel like we’re getting to the point where there’s a lot of games being played over a short period of time, but there’s not a lot of games left in the season.

“It shows the importance of each and every night and each and every point that we have with this group and this is the time of year where as a group, we really look forward to playing.”


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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