- Game 3 of the Oilers' six-game homestand goes tonight when the Columbus Blue Jackets roll into Rexall Place.
Columbus had a tough start to the season, going 0-7-1 to establish the worst record to start a season in the club's 11-year history. They've since righted the ship, so to speak, stringing together a 5-3-2 record in their past 10.
"For sure," said Ryan Jones
, agreeing that the Blue Jackets are better than their 25-game record would indicate. "Just look at their lineup. They have all sorts of talent up and down and in all positions. They picked up some guys (Jeff Carter, most notably) over the summer and everyone knew they were going to be a good team this season."
That's still to be determined, but the Jackets have made some moves to help alleviate some early-season pressure to help climb the NHL's Western Conference standings; 32-year-old Curtis Sanford has contributed, playing lights-out between the pipes as Columbus' fortunes begin to turn.
"It's an 82 game season," Jones added. "Sometimes the way you start isn't very indicative of the team that are you are. That's exactly what's happening with them. They're a good squad, but they've had a tough start and so many teams go through that; we have, too, in the past."
"Yeah. Absolutely. 100-percent," Renney said about the Blue Jackets' misleading record. "They work extremely hard, they have a system they believe in. Their attack game is good. They're a heavy team, too. They know how to go to the net hard and stick around doing it. They're getting goaltending on a more regular basis than they maybe had needed earlier.
"We can all look good when the goaltending is great; and when it's less than what it needs to be, then it really doesn't matter what's in front of you."
, who's missed 17 games this season but has now played four-straight in his return from a knee problem, has seen a change in the Oilers' game of late, pushing the team to a less-than-desired 3-6-1 record in the last 10.
"We've got to play a whole game," he said. "We've come on strong to start games and even near the end, but we haven't put together a complete game yet. It's on us to get that done.
"We sometimes have good starts, but we get complacent with that and start letting up a little bit and giving up scoring chances."
He, too, agreed that the Blue Jackets will be a challenging assignment.
"We think we can beat anyone on any night we play them," Whitney explained. "Columbus is a lot better than their record; everyone knows that, they work hard, they've got a lot of skill up front and it won't be an easy game by any means. For us to think it's going to be easy because they're a couple places lower than us doesn't make much sense."
ROOKIE OF THE MONTH
It was announced this morning that 18-year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month (his second consecutive honour). Having scored six goals and 16 points in November, he's well prepared to continue rolling in his blistering pace.
Overall, he's now scored 11 goals and 27 points in 25 games, ranking him sixth overall in the NHL.
"I haven't seen the whole list yet, but I've heard that I'm up there now," Nugent-Hopkins said, smiling. "It's pretty cool. It's surreal for me and it goes to show how well the team has been working with me.
"I'm trying to learn as much as I can from the older guys; I'm trying to take it all in right now."
"He's still playing the same way," Renney said, regarding Nugent-Hopkins consistent production to this point. "He's able to make his plays, he continues to read the ice and circumstance well, even though there's less time and space in some instances.
"It's an important skill to be that evasive or elusive, however you want to phrase it. It's a big skill. That's the ability, that hockey sense to know what's going on around you and instinctively knowing how to position yourself. There's no question that takes skill, and he has that."
, who missed Wednesday's game and subsequent practices with a hand infection, will be unable to go again tonight. Ryan O'Marra
will continue to centre the team's fourth line, but Renney did remark in his post-practice press conference that Lander could be available for tomorrow night's game against the Calgary Flames.
(3-5-0, 2.88 goals-against average and .902 save percentage) will make his ninth start of the season tonight. In his previous start on Nov. 26 in Colorado, the 25-year-old surrendered four goals on 28 shots as the Oilers fell 5-2.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
LAST 10: Columbus 5-3-2; Edmonton 3-6-1
Season Series: The teams are meeting for the first time this season; the other three games don't come until after the new year. Both teams won twice last season,
Big Story: The Jackets are slowly climbing out of the hole they dug themselves thanks to the worst start in franchise captain and will try to win consecutive road games for the first time. The Oilers, October's darlings after their terrific start, are coming back to earth and blew a 2-0 lead in their last game, a 3-2 shootout loss at home to Minnesota.
Blue Jackets: Columbus is still 7-15-3 and last in the West, but the Jackets are 4-2-2 in their last eight and come to Rexall Place off an exhilarating 4-3 shootout win at Calgary on Thursday, a game in which they scored twice in the final 5:05 to force OT before winning the tiebreaker.
"It's a huge step for us," said captain Rick Nash, who scored the tying goal in the final minute and then beat Miikka Kiprusoff to win the shootout. "It was a huge comeback, but (Friday) we have to be much better. ... Hopefully we can bring the last five minutes of momentum into (Friday) night's game."
Oilers: November was a tough month for the Oilers after a terrific October. But even with Wednesday's disappointing loss to the Wild, their third straight defeat, Edmonton is still ahead of its 9-12-4 pace after 25 games last season.
"I think there's a responsibility to winning, and that means you've got to keep doing it," coach Tom Renney said. "Maintaining a certain standard of play and looking for a certain outcome no matter what. ... We're learning how to deal with that still, but we can't be afraid of it."
Who's Hot: Nash has three goals in his last four games. … Edmonton rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to amaze -- he had a goal and an assist against the Wild and leads all first-year players with 11 goals and 27 points. Linemate Jordan Eberle has six goals and 15 points in his last nine games.
Injury Report: Columbus is still without defenseman Radek Martinek (concussion) and forward Kristian Huselius (torn pectoral muscle), though Huselius is almost ready to return. … Edmonton is without Taylor Hall (shoulder), Ben Eager (back) and Corey Potter (ankle).
Stat Pack: Columbus is still 2-8-2 away from home and has not won in regulation away from Nationwide Arena. … The Oilers have scored two goals or fewer in six of their last 11 games.
Puck Drop: While Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Hall (before his injury) were putting up big numbers, the Oilers have been missing secondary scoring. Sam Gagner, Eric Belanger and Magnus Paajarvi have a combined 73 shots this season without scoring a goal.
"There was a stretch there where I wasn't playing my best hockey, and I knew that," Gagner told the Oilers' website on Thursday. "I wanted to get back to the way I knew I could play. I'm moving my feet more, I have the puck on my stick more and I'm making plays. I have to be happy with that.
"There has to be a level of urgency to produce."