Just when it seemed like the Edmonton Oilers were establishing some consistency, they’ve taken another step back.
The Oilers seek to avoid a three-game losing streak as they conclude a five-game homestand Sunday night against a St. Louis Blues team looking for its season high-tying third straight victory.
Edmonton (19-18-3) was feeling confident during a three-game winning streak from Dec. 22-28, but the Oilers have since gone 2-4-0. They opened January by winning the first two contests of their current stretch at Rexall Place, but lost 4-2 Wednesday to Vancouver before falling 4-1 to Western Conference-leading San Jose on Friday night.
“I thought we were making progress up until a couple games ago,” coach Craig MacTavish said. “There is no end to the criticism you could direct at your team after a game like that.”
The Oilers’ frustrations led the players to hold a closed-door meeting after Friday’s game.
“We have to be able to find a way to prepare and come out and play with emotion every night,” defenseman Steve Staios said. “That’s been lacking in this room. Whether we win or lose we have to do it in the fashion we are used to and that hasn’t been happening for a while here.”
A matchup with the Blues (16-21-3), who own the worst record in the West, might be able to help the Oilers regroup. They have won the last four meetings, most recently 4-2 in St. Louis on Nov. 29.
It’s unclear, though, if Edmonton will have Sheldon Souray available Sunday. The All-Star defenseman, tied for the team lead with 12 goals and tied for second with 29 points, exited Friday’s game in the second period because of an upper-body injury.
St. Louis’ lineup has been hampered by injuries all season. The Blues have six players on injured reserve, including winger Paul Kariya, who underwent surgery on his left hip Monday and could miss the remainder of 2008-09.
Those setbacks have likely contributed to the Blues’ position in the standings, but they’ve found success lately.
Five days after defeating Central Division rival Columbus 5-2 at home, they opened a three-game trip through western Canada with Friday night’s 6-4 victory over Vancouver to end a seven-game road skid.
St. Louis relinquished the lead twice in the third period, but earned back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 6-8.
“A lot of times this year we haven’t answered the bell and gone away and let teams trounce us so it’s a sign of guys learning and the character of this team developing,” said David Backes, who had a goal and an assist. “We need that every night to climb the standings.”
St. Louis seeks its first three-game winning streak since Nov. 21-25. It’s 6-3-1 in its last 10 visits to Edmonton, falling 4-3 in overtime on March 11 in its last game there.
Brad Boyes, who scored his team-leading 19th goal on Friday and tops St. Louis with 35 points, has seven goals and five assists in nine career games against the Oilers. All-Star left wing Keith Tkachuk, second on the Blues with 14 goals and 29 points, had two assists versus Vancouver and has 25 goals and 51 points in 56 contests against Edmonton.