Columbus, OH - The Edmonton Oilers look to complete a four-game road trip on Sunday afternoon without a regulation loss. Through the first three games, the team has put up a record of 2-0-1.
"The biggest thing for us is just having confidence in ourselves," said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. "We want to finish off the season strong and I think the past five or so games have been a good indication of that."
Overall, the Oilers have picked up points in six straight (4-0-2). It is a streak that started against tomorrow's opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Edmonton blanked Columbus 3-0 on Wednesday, March 14.
"Right now we are playing for pride and we want to end up the season strong to carry into next season," RNH continued.
Ryan Jones added that a big reason for the team's success is the overall strong play by everybody working in unison.
"We got a little bit separated at times this year. It's tough to play when there's not a whole lot of support on the ice," said Jones. "The game we're playing now, there's a lot of support everywhere. Especially down in Florida, we had to be because the ice was so bad. You just weren't going to get the 50, 60 foot passes."
Jones remarked that the team's ability to adapt to poor ice conditions and grind out a win and shootout loss was a great sign.
"We played a little bit of a chess match in both games and got three out of four points."
COPING WITH INJURIES
Another obstacle in the team's way on Friday night in Florida was captain Shawn Horcoff going down with a sore back. After the injury, Darcy Hordichuk didn't see another shift which resulted in the team essentially going with three lines.
"Sometimes you're sitting there, depending on what happens, you can sit there for awhile. When you lose a couple forwards you're going all the time. You know that there's only one shift between you and going back out there. You get on the bench, get a swig of water, catch a breath and you're ready to go," said Jones of playing with a short bench.
"But at the same time you're involved the entire game so it's nice."
Horcoff will not play on Sunday. Centre Chris VandeVelde was called up from Oklahoma City today to fill the void.
READY FOR JACKETS
The Oilers play the one team below them in the standings on Sunday afternoon. But Jones and Nugent-Hopkins both cautioned that they cannot be taken lightly.
"They're a great team. They have a lot of speed and work really hard," said Nugent-Hopkins. "They're a fast team. We need to make sure we match that and make sure we're really intense."
The Oilers have two wins and a loss against Columbus this season with the lone setback coming here at Nationwide Arena.
"We've played them a few times already this year so we know what they're capable of and they're definitely a good team. We can't take them lightly at all."
Jones agreed with his teammate that the Blue Jackets are tough to play against, particularly with six wins already in the month of March.
"They're a hard working team. They're trying to find themselves right now as well and they've won some big hockey games," said Jones.
"With our hockey squad, the skill that we have, if we can match the other team we're going to give ourselves a chance to win a hockey game."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Last 10: Edmonton 5-2-3; Columbus 5-5-0.
Season Series: The Oilers have two of the first three meetings between the clubs this season, including a 3-0 victory 11 days ago at Rexall Place.
Big Story: The two teams at the bottom of the NHL standings meet, and both have been playing better of late after struggling in the middle of the campaign.
Oilers: Edmonton has collected at least a point in six straight games (4-0-2). It is the first time the Oilers have accomplished that since winning six straight in late October. The Oilers' run of success has closed the gap on the team's above them in the NHL standings -- they moved to within two points of Montreal and the New York Islanders after winning Friday night at Florida in a shootout.
"In a convoluted kind of way, you want to have the guys experience this kind of stretch and have them realize how much they dislike missing the playoffs and how hard they have to play (next year)," Oilers coach Tom Renney said.
Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets did not win more than four games in any of the first four calendar months of the season. Well, they won five times in February (5-7-1) and have already reached a season-high six victories in March. It might not seem like a big deal, but the Blue Jackets are 11-12-1 since the start of February, and a couple of young players have been critical to the team's climb toward respectability.
Center Derick Brassard had a terrible start to the season, and had only 16 points in 42 games played (and several nights as a healthy scratch) at the end of January, but he's got 19 points in the past 24 contests. Goaltender Steve Mason was a disaster at the start of this season, but he is 6-2-0 in March and has allowed two goals or less in each of the six wins. He's also sporting a .938 save percentage this month.
Who's Hot: Rookie center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has six points in the past six games for Edmonton and 12 points in the 15 games he has played since returning from a shoulder injury. Columbus defenseman has five points in the past four games and nine points in March.
Stat Pack: Edmonton goaltender Devan Dubnyk is 14-8-2 in 2012. He's also 11-6-1 with a .919 save percentage and 2.48 goals against average since the All-Star break. Columbus forward Rick Nash is fifth in the League in shots on goal with 274 and has 60 takeaways -- he's only player in the top 15 in shots on goal with that many takeaways.
Puck Drop: Nugent-Hopkins missed 20 games with a shoulder injury, but he has chased down the other top two contenders for the Calder Trophy, Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog and New Jersey's Adam Henrique, in the rookie points race. All three had 47 points as of Friday night, though Landeskog had 21 more games played and Henrique had 12. At his pace this season, Nugent-Hopkins would have 24 goals and 64 points in 76 games.
No Edmonton player has won the Calder Memorial Trophy in franchise history, but Nugent-Hopkins has a chance to be the first.