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Surging Oilers return home to face struggling Blues

by Matthew Mankiewich /
BLUES (12-9-3) at OILERS (9-12-4)

TV -- CBC (HD), FS-MW (HD)

Last 10 --
St. Louis 3-7-0, Edmonton 5-4-1

Season series -- First of four meetings this season. The Blues took the last three matchups on the 2009-10 schedule, allowing a total of four goals. The clubs won't meet again until Feb. 4.

Big story -- Have the young Oilers turned the corner? Not only have they won four of five, they swept their way through eastern Canada like their predecessors a generation ago, stomping through Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto by a 13-4 clip. The Blues have lost four straight, and haven't dropped five in a row in regulation since Dec. 10-18, 2008. Since getting off to a franchise-record 9-1-2 start, the Blues are 3-8-1.

Team scope:

Blues -- Ask around the St. Louis media and the consensus is that the Blues are a formidable team when healthy, but with TJ Oshie, David Perron and Roman Polak out long-term, they don't have much margin for error, if they ever did with their grinding style. Still, coach Davis Payne is optimistic.

"I don't think we’re far off," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to the Capitals. "You look at our Dallas games, you look at our last four games, all losses, but there's a small margin there. There's some good hockey there."

Close games have been the norm this season for the Blues. This current slide began with a pair of one-goal home-and-home losses to the Stars which stopped a three-game winning streak -- the last two of those victories coming by a single goal.

Oilers -- It started with a 5-0 loss to the Coyotes on Nov. 23. Coach Tom Renney had a few choice words with his still-developing team, and the lecture seems to have worked.

"What we've done is we've just tried to break each game into increments of 20 minutes -- and even beyond that 5-minute segments -- and identify the good things that they're doing," Renney said. "Not to dwell too much on those things that can go wrong because that can happen to any team.

"Just try to build the resolve that is required to work your way through those tough stretches."

Now they get to apply what they've learned at home, where they've lost seven of eight.

Who's hot -- Taylor Hall is a big reason the Oilers have been heating up. After picking up only 7 points in his first 17 games, he's matched that in his last seven, with 5 goals and 2 assists. He had his first two-goal game in Thursday's 5-0 win in Toronto. Center Sam Gagner has 6 points in his last four games.

Injury report --
Oshie (broken ankle) is out until at least early February. Polak (lacerated wrist) will be re-evaluated in January after undergoing surgery to repair a severed tendon in his right arm. Perron (concussion) has not resumed skating since the Joe Thornton hit that sidelined him Nov. 4. … Oilers forward Ales Hemsky (groin) was out three games, scored 3 points Wednesday in Montreal, but re-aggravated the injury and sat out Thursday's win in Toronto. He is day-to-day.

Stat pack -- The Blues' offensive shortcomings have infiltrated the power play as well -- they're in an 0-for-16 funk. … During the Blues' 9-1-2 start, they won only two games by more than two goals. Three of their four straight losses have been by two goals or less. … Three different goalies won for the Oil in their eastern swing. Martin Gerber beat the Senators, Devan Dubnyk held off the Canadiens and Nikolai Khabibulin recorded his 43rd career shutout in his first game back after missing seven games with a groin injury. It's the first goalie hat trick on the road for the Oilers since 1985, when Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog and Mike Zanier did it, but there was a five-game homestand between Moog and Zanier's wins.

Puck drop --
"Every once in a while you need a kick in the butt … our season was falling apart at that point. We've regrouped, our compete level is better. You can tell we've turned it around as soon as you come into the dressing room. Everyone is more vocal now. Before, we'd come into the room and it would be kind of a down feeling. Now we're trying to get back into a playoff spot." -- Hall in the Edmonton Journal referring to the Oilers' performance since Renney took them to task in Phoenix

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