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Eberle returns to Edmonton with Islanders on seven-game slide

Forward producing since offseason trade to New York

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- When the New York Islanders visit the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; SNW, MSG+ 2, NHL.TV), two storylines will be front and center.

It will be the first time Islanders forward Jordan Eberle, who played seven seasons for the Oilers, returns to Edmonton since he was traded to New York for forward Ryan Strome on June 22, 2017.

Eberle returns with the Islanders (29-29-9) on a seven-game losing streak and six points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

"The last two and a half weeks, we've kind of put ourselves out of the playoff picture here," Eberle said after practice Wednesday. "We have to find a way to get ourselves back in the hunt."

Eberle was the Oilers' first-round pick (No. 22) at the 2008 NHL Draft and a consistent producer with five seasons of at least 20 goals. He had 382 points (165 goals, 217 assists) in 507 games for Edmonton.

Eberle has 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) in 66 games for New York, and Strome has 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 61 games for Edmonton. The Oilers defeated the Islanders 2-1 in overtime in New York on Nov. 7.

"I think it's always a difficult thing to play against your original team," Edmonton coach Todd McLellan said. "Ryan's gone through that once obviously, on [Long] Island, and that was more home for him, at that time, so he's experienced it once. Jordan coming home here will experience it his own way.

"But there's always comparisons made. Both teams are on the outside looking in. Neither of them want to be where they are right now, each of the players has had their own season, and there's no doubt that comparisons will be drawn between the players, yet they're completely different players, they're on teams for different reasons, and we're happy with the one [we] have ... and I know they're happy with the one they have."

Video: NYI@VAN: Eberle scores late game-tying PPG

Eberle admitted he's thought a little about how the reception will go when he returns to Rogers Place. Edmonton (28-34-4) is 17 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"I'm really not sure what to expect," Eberle said. "I'm excited. I've got a lot of good memories from here, I enjoyed my time here and still have tons of friends on the team. It was an awesome place to play. The crowd, hopefully they don't boo me. Hopefully they give me a warm welcome."

A suggestion was made earlier this season that Eberle was happy to be out from under the intense scrutiny in Edmonton. In his first experience in the playoffs last season, Eberle had two assists in 13 games.

"Playing in the Long Island market, the media attention isn't as high-level as it is here," he said. "For me last year, struggling, then not playing well at all in the playoffs and being criticized, rightfully so, it's never fun.

"That's just the way it goes. I think when you don't have that in Long Island as much, maybe it helps your confidence a little bit more."

Was the scrutiny unfair?

"No, I've always said that," he said. "The media has never been unfair. They just (tell it) like it is. If you're not playing well, they're going to tell you."

Video: NYI@NJD: Eberle taps home Beauvillier's great pass

Islanders coach Doug Weight knows how Eberle will feel when he plays against the Oilers. After his ninth season with Edmonton, Weight was traded with forward Michel Riesen to the St. Louis Blues for forwards Marty Reasoner, Jochen Hecht and defenseman Jan Horacek on July 1, 2001.

"It's a special day for Jordan," Weight said. "I continue to root for the Oilers, watch them a lot and will always have a connection with the city and the fans. Jordan will have that too."

In assessing the Islanders' recent struggles, Weight said something surprising Wednesday.

"Things are going, actually, really well," he said. "It's awful tough, but you have to stay positive and you've got to go on a run. You see it every year from teams, whether it's early in the season like [the Philadelphia Flyers], or right now with [the Florida Panthers]. Teams have the ability to get eight, nine out of 10 points, and then you build on that. That's what we have to try to do.

"We've been in position to win six out of the last seven games, and in position to win because we put ourselves there and played well enough to win. So, it's disappointing, but it is reality. There's no acceptance in it.

"We just have to keep digging. We changed some things about a month ago and we've had good results. We're just not getting the points, but that's what it's all about."

New York forward Andrew Ladd, who hasn't scored in 23 games, said the Islanders have to get away from trying to be too fancy if they hope to find their way back into playoff position.

"We're trying to get some confidence and swagger back as a group," Ladd said. "Playing with confidence is just making the simple plays and having the confidence to make the right choice in your head. I think that's a big part of it."

Video: ANA@NYI: Ladd goes bar-down off loose puck

After playing the Oilers and then the Calgary Flames on Sunday, the Islanders will play nine of their remaining 13 games in New York.

"We have a lot of home games, but we're also playing a lot of the top teams too," Ladd said. "In saying that, the good teams have brought the best out of us. I know we have the confidence in our room to put a streak together. One can turn the tide and then we'll go from there."

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