The Edmonton Oilers look to carry momentum from their third period comeback win over the Calgary Flames, on Saturday night, into their game tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz will make is much needed return to the blue line as he will play his first game since October 29.
"I thought I was going to be out for a game, two games maybe," said Schultz who has been recovering from a groin injury. "I didn't expect it to be this long. We just needed to make sure it'd be ready to go when I came back to play."
Schultz's return is a major positive for a team that has missed his offensive abilities to jump in on the rush and move the puck out of the defensive zone.
"His puck moving ability back there and his calmness," said forward Ryan Smyth. "Obviously, he likes to get up in the play but I think it's going to help our team collectively, maybe spend a little less time in our zone."
Teammate Sam Gagner added, "It just opens up room for you. If they've got another guy to worry about, they can't necessarily worry about playing aggressive. It's nice when they're stepping up into the rush and helping us out there and hopefully we get more of that tonight."
Schultz is eager to contribute tonight.
"We want to get involved and put pressure on teams and not let them get easy entries and easy breakouts," said the defenceman. "Hopefully we can establish that tonight."
The Oilers will try to carry momentum from their win in Calgary on Saturday. A win like that over a rival can carry a team to some wins.
"It gives us some confidence that we can win," said Smyth. "We know how to win. It wasn't pretty in the first. I thought we battled our way back into it. We know we have Columbus here, they won the other night. We've got to make sure we're prepared and focused. They're not an expansion team anymore, by any means. They've got some good, hard-working players."
"It was a great third period last game against Calgary," said centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. "Hopefully we can take that momentum and really build off of it. If we want, it could change a lot for us. We haven't had the start we've wanted all season, at all. That's a good first step for us and we've just got to build off it and it's a good opportunity at home."
The Oilers' starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk has played 'lights out' since returning from an ankle injury earlier in the season. Coincidentally, his improvement has lined up with the Oilers signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a contract. Dubnyk says he doesn't know if that has been what has sparked his solid play lately, but the timeline matches up.
"If you look at the timing, it's true," said the backstop. "I've probably felt my best from Philadelphia on right now. Those two games on the weekend, we didn't get the results that we'd like. But, I don't know if it was a change, or what it was. You sit down and think about it and obviously everyone is talking and there's a lot going on. You come back to it at that point and what's done is done. All I can do is play hockey. I really took some time to think and that's what I kept coming back to and that was my mindset going out into the games and that's how it should be all the time. That's how I'm going to continue to be. I don't know if it's coincidence or that's what it is, but it's nice to be there."
Dubnyk is coming off of a win in Calgary in which he stopped 33 of 35 pucks, posting a .943 save percentage.
"We've got all the confidence in the world in Devan," said Gagner. "For him to handle this situation like he has, it speaks a lot to his character."
FIXING HOME STRUGGLES
One of the reasons the Oilers have struggled at home recently, is a lack of scoring. Nail Yakupov broke a home-scoring drought of 214 minutes and 52 seconds when he scored against San Jose on November 15.
The Oilers are just 1-7-0 at home this season. Tonight, they look to not only score the first goal to get the crowd going, but focus less on fancy and more on driving hard to the net.
"Obviously scoring would be a big plus here and get the fans going and everybody on our side," said Smyth. "Relish this opportunity because this game is about opportunity and you take full advantage of the situation you're in."
"You score one goal, and you get confidence from that," said Gagner. "They're not going to always be pretty goals. Maybe we've got to find a way to get one early that's a little greasy and go from there. But, I think at the end of the day, you just have to have confidence. We've been a little fragile in this building. This is the place we should feel comfortable. We need to make sure we get back to playing that way and hopefully tonight is a good stepping stone for that."
The team understands the fan frustration and will look to take a step towards fixing it tonight.
"It's been tough. It's been tough for our fans and tough for us," said Dubnyk. "We haven't performed and gotten the results we need to have at home. Hopefully we can draw from that confidence in Calgary and go out and play. The guys care so much you can go out and see the sticks squeezing and kind of pushing things from everybody. We want to perform well and we want to be good for our fans here. Our fans deserve it. Hopefully we can get some confidence out of Calgary and we can go out and just play hockey. We'll start with some results tonight."
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
BLUE JACKETS (7-10-3) at OILERS (5-15-2)
TV: FS-O, SNET-W
Last 10: Columbus 2-5-3; Edmonton 2-7-1
Season series: The Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers play the first of two games with the Oilers traveling to Columbus on Nov. 29. Edmonton defeated Columbus 6-4 on March 28 when Ales Hemsky scored the go-ahead goal with 3:08 remaining.
Big story: Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is back in the NHL with the Oilers after his recall from Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League on Sunday. As timing had it, Bryzgalov was in position to start against his former Philadelphia Flyers teammate, Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, but that won't be happening. Oilers coach Dallas Eakins told reporters Monday that incumbent starter Devan Dubnyk will get the call.
"Devan has played well and we're going to keep him rolling," Eakins said.
Blue Jackets: Columbus was powered by its special teams in a 4-1 win against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday. The Blue Jackets were a season-best 3-for-5 on the power play and held the Senators off the board with the man advantage until a late 5-on-3 goal by Erik Karlsson. Columbus has killed 22 of 25 power plays in its past eight games (88 percent) and is tied for second with three shorthanded goals.
"It was a big win for our team," coach Todd Richards said. "Five games in a row with points, hopefully we're starting to feel confident going out on the ice."
Oilers: Edmonton's 4-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday ended a five-game losing streak a few days after general manager Craig MacTavish met the media to give his state of a team that had just four victories in 20 games. The Oilers scored four third-period goals to rally from a 2-0 deficit and are hoping it will provide a spark.
"I think getting the goals when we needed them, I think coming from behind in a game when you seemed out of it in the first period, but we were able to survive it because of Dubs. It gives you a spark," Eakins said following practice Monday. "It gives the individuals some confidence scoring goal and making some pays offensively."
Who's hot: Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno is on a three-game point streak (one goal, two assists) and has two goals and seven points in his past eight games. RJ Umberger has five goals and nine points with three game-winning goals in his past 13. Brandon Dubinsky has four goals and 12 points in his past 12. Ryan Johansen has six goals and 12 points in his past 15, and leads Columbus in goals and ranks third in points … Dubnyk made 33 saves in the Oilers' win Saturday and has allowed six goals in his past three games.
Injury report: Blue Jackets forward Nathan Horton (shoulder surgery) took part in an optional skate Monday. There remains no timetable for him to make his Columbus debut. Matt Calvert (abdominal surgery) is with the team and Richards is targeting a return Tuesday or Wednesday. Cody Bass (broken thumb) and Marian Gaborik (sprained knee) are on injured reserve … Justin Schultz (strained groin/rib cage) could return for the Oilers on Tuesday. "Probably the best I've felt," he said Monday. "I'm really close. I'll wake up [Tuesday] and see how I feel." Four other Oilers are on IR: Steve MacIntyre (knee), Ryan Hamilton (knee), Tyler Pitlick (sprained left knee) and Richard Bachman (strained groin).