The tough times continued for the Edmonton Oilers last week with another couple of losses on home ice, making it 11 defeats in their last 12 games.
The Oil battled back from a pair of two-goal deficits on Tuesday against the Phoenix Coyotes, but fell 5-4 in overtime (picking up just their third point in that 12-game span). They followed that up with a 4-2 loss to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, a game that saw them playing from behind once again, but another game where they did some good things and came up short.
The team had a four-day break between after that loss to Columbus, but instead of a planned golf trip, the coaching staff held a four-day mini camp for the players at Rexall Place.
The Oilers wrap up a four-game home stand this week with games against the Nashville Predators (27-16-3) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (28-18-1), before kicking off a short two-game road trip in San Jose (29-10-7) on Saturday.
With 38 games to go in the season and 16 points separating the Oilers from a playoff berth, it's definitely a crucial time for the team. If they're going to turn things around, they must start playing better at home - Edmonton is 1-7-3 in its last 11 games at Rexall Place. They haven't been much better on the road either though, losing four straight after a five-game road win streak.
Predators @ Oilers
Tuesday, Jan. 12th - Pre game: 5:30, Puck drop: 7pm; 630 CHED
The Preds scored a late power play goal in a 3-2 win over the Canucks on Monday night, launching them into a tie for fifth in the Western Conference with 57-points. In two games against Edmonton this season, the Preds were blown out 6-1 and registered a 6-3 win. Steve Sullivan leads the Preds in scoring with 30 points, while Patric Hornqvist (17) and Marty Erat (15) are battling for the team's goal scoring lead. The Nashville roster boasts seven players with at least 26 points and five players with at least 10 goals so far. Coming into Monday's action, Hornqvist had six points (4g,2a) in four games and Sullivan had five points (1g,4a) in four games (he added an assist to that on Monday). The Preds two goalies, Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis, have similar stats when it comes to GAA and save percentage, but Rinne is 17-8-2 on the year while Ellis is just 10-8-1. Ellis started against Vancouver, so I assume Rinne will get the start on Tuesday.
Penguins @ Oilers
Thursday, Jan. 14th - Pre game: 6pm, Puck drop: 7:30pm; 630 CHED
The Pittsburgh Penguins play the Calgary Flames on Wednesday before their meeting with the Oilers the next night at Rexall Place - they go into that game having lost two of three, with a 2-2 record since losing five in a row in late December/early January. The Pittsburgh offence is led by captain Sidney Crosby, who is on fire right now with seven points in his last three games (5g,2a) including a three point night in a 4-3 loss to the Wild on Monday. Evgeni Malkin has five points in four games, but hasn't scored since a hat trick on December 23rd (nine games). Marc-Andre Fleury will be one of Canada's three goalies at the Olympics in February and he is playing pretty good hockey this season with a 23-13-1 record so far. His GAA and save percentage aren't great right now (2.62, .906), but the thing with Fleury is, he's always capable of stealing a game for his club.
Oilers @ Sharks
Saturday, Jan. 16th - Pre game: 12:30pm, Puck drop: 2pm; 630 CHED
After winning eight straight games, the San Jose Sharks dropped two of their next three before beating the LA Kings 2-1 on Monday night. They've got games against Phoenix and Boston before they meet the Oilers on Saturday afternoon, the third meeting and second this month between the two clubs (a 5-4 shootout win in November and a 4-1 win on January 2nd). The Sharks are led by the explosive Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau/Dany Heatley line, which has combined for 66 goals and 154 points in 45 games this season...and that's just one line! Having said that, once you get past that first line there's a pretty serious drop in production. The Oilers will want to try to avoid taking penalties as SJ's power play is dangerous; about half of Dan Boyle's 35 points on the season have come with the extra man. Between the pipes, Evgeni Nabokov continues to be one of the better goalies in the league, which should make things tough on Edmonton shooters.
Denis Grebeshkov - The 26-year-old defenceman has three points in his last three games, including a goal and an assist in that 5-4 loss to the Coyotes. He also set up Sam Gagner's goal against Columbus and was a +2 in that 4-2 loss.
Patrick O'Sullivan - He scored a beauty against the Coyotes, part of a two-point effort, and although he was held off the score sheet (and a -2) against Columbus, it's encouraging to see him play confidently in the offensive zone.
What to watch for:
How will the players respond? - The team held a four day "mini-camp" this weekend, which included on-ice drills, off-ice workouts and video sessions...so will it make a difference? Players and coaches alike had good stuff to say about how things went, but it means nothing if things stay the same.
Offensive drought over? - Prior to their last two games, the Oil had scored more than one goal just once in a span of six games, but since then they've put up six goals in two games. That's encouraging, considering they've only won once this season when scoring two or fewer goals. If the offence can get back to its occasionally high-flying ways, the Oil will have a shot at getting back into the playoff hunt.
Lubo's return - When the Oilers were stringing together wins, Lubomir Visnovsky was contributing big points on an almost nightly basis (five points in five straight wins). When they started losing, he was a minus player in seven straight games with just two points in that span. Visnovsky got hurt on New Years Eve and has missed the last three games, but should be back on Tuesday.
Trade talks - It's that time of year again! In the next little while there will no doubt be all kinds of rumours floating around about certain players. This can be a big distraction for the team, especially a team like the Oilers that already has a lot to think about right now. It has already started to happen with the Sheldon Souray stories...