Though it doesn’t take away the sting of five consecutive losses, coach Ralph Krueger believes his Edmonton Oilers are putting forth solid efforts that eventually should translate to victories.
Todd Richards isn’t saying the same about his Columbus Blue Jackets.
Edmonton hopes to have Eric Belanger back in the lineup Sunday night as it seeks a fifth victory in the last six meetings with Columbus, which expects James Wisniewski to return from a two-game absence.
The Oilers (4-4-3) won four of their first six games, but they are 0-2-3 since after Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Detroit. Rookie defenseman Justin Schultz, who scored his third goal of the season, said there’s plenty of time to recover, though.
“We just have to keep working hard,” Schultz said. “It’s early in the season. (The wins) will come.”
Injuries have been an issue of late, especially at the center position, as captain Shawn Horcoff (broken knuckle) and Anton Lander (broken foot) will miss extended time.
Fellow center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returned Saturday, though, after missing Wednesday’s overtime loss to Dallas with a shoulder injury, and Belanger could play Sunday after sitting out the last two games with two broken toes.
Though Krueger would like to see better performances from both special teams units after the power play went 1 for 8 and the penalty kill allowed two goals Saturday, he’s encouraged by what he’s seeing on the ice.
“They’re willing to put in the work, and more than anything it’s about learning how to win,” Krueger said. “They’re pushing each other in the right direction and we’re making steps every day.”
The Oilers have had some recent success against the Blue Jackets, including a 6-3 victory in the most recent meeting March 25 as Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle each finished with two assists to help their team end a five-game losing streak in Columbus.
The Blue Jackets (3-6-2) can’t seem to find any consistency lately, dropping their last two despite holding a lead after the first period in each. They fell 4-2 to Los Angeles on Tuesday before Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary.
Columbus has trailed first in all three of its wins.
“We have to figure it out,” said Richards, whose team fell to 1-2-1 on its franchise record-tying six-game homestand. “For 20 minutes it’s good and then we lose our game. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s not one shift or two shifts, it’s for an extended period of time.”
Richards said Columbus’ inability to move the puck up the ice has been an issue. He hopes that improves Sunday and in Monday’s contest versus San Jose, which precedes a six-game road trip.
“The last two games we’ve spent too much time in our own zone,” Richards said. “We aren’t getting into the battles and we aren’t winning that first battle on the puck. We’re going to face two teams in the next two games that have that same capability.”
Wisniewski, who has a point in his past four games, has missed the last two with a concussion but appears likely to play Sunday.
Devan Dubnyk, who has a 1.93 goals-against average in his last six starts and is 4-1-0 with a 2.21 GAA in his last five versus Columbus, will be in net for Edmonton on Sunday.
It’s unclear who will start for Columbus, though Steve Mason is 1-3-0 with a 6.38 GAA in his last four against the Oilers.