During his tenure with the Edmonton Oilers, Jordan Eberle has experienced the dismay of tumbling down the NHL standings.
It just hasn’t been quite this early in the past.

The Oilers are last in the Western Conference with a record of 3-7-1 and back-to-back road games looming. They play the Phoenix Coyotes at 1 p.m. Saturday and then take on the Kings in Los Angeles at 7 p.m. Sunday.

At this point last season, the Oilers were 4-4-3. In 2011, Edmonton got off to an impressive 7-2-2 start.

“In my mind, the next few games are must-wins,” said Eberle. “But as weird as it is to say, it’s an almost an opportunity. When it’s this early in the season, with 71 games left and your backs are already against the wall, maybe that’s a good thing.

“Maybe it will bring the best out of our team.”

Through the years, captain Andrew Ference noted that by the time American Thanksgiving rolls around in late November, teams have to be within striking distance of the leaders if they are going to have a chance to lock down a playoff spot by April. If that is the case, the Oilers have 15 games to climb out of the hole they’ve dug.

“I know the math,” Ference said. “You have to put yourself into a striking position or a playoff position. You can’t just say, ‘Well, we expect to play lights out.’ You can play lights out at the end of the year, but you won’t catch teams then.”

Head coach Dallas Eakins said on Friday he was going to keep his lineup intact, at least to start the game, as he wants to give the line combinations some time to mesh.

However, he is considering a switch in net. Jason LaBarbera, who left the Arizona desert for Edmonton in the off-season, will start in place of Devan Dubnyk.

“You can look at the standings and start to panic or you can prepare for your next game,” said Eakins. “If you look after your next game, the standings look after themselves. I’ll be very honest. I couldn’t tell you who the top three teams are in our conference right now.

“All of that is minutia to me. If we can prepare and if we can have success in our next game, then the standings will look after themselves.”

The Oilers returned to Edmonton early Wednesday morning from a six-game, 11-day road trip to host the Washington Capitals on Thursday. They squeezed in a practice on Friday morning, then flew to Phoenix.