EDMONTON, Alberta — For the St. Louis Blues, losers of four of their past five games, the issues have been preparation and discipline.
“It’s a matter of making sure that you’re prepared to play the right way and to play that way for 60 minutes,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said, “and we haven’t been doing that.”
The Blues (22-12-2) have lost the first two games on their four-game Western road trip, scoring only one goal in that span. They were shut out 4-0 at Winnipeg on Sunday and fell at Calgary 2-1 on Wednesday night.
On Thursday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Blues will take on the Oilers (15-17-2), who would seemingly be a good team to play to snap out of a slump. St. Louis has absolutely owned Edmonton so far this season, winning the previous encounters 4-1 and 8-3.
But the Blues, who are without forward Jaden Schwartz (35 points in 30 games) and veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, believe the Oilers team they will face Thursday bears little resemblance to the struggling club they faced earlier this season.
“They’re playing a lot better hockey, obviously, now than they were at the start,” said Blues forward Brayden Schenn, who has 39 points in 36 games. “They’re winning some hockey games (including their last two) and, obviously, have confidence with their team. …
“They’re starting to buzz a little bit and getting production from their top players, which comes (as) no surprise. They’re close to a playoff spot, so we’re going to be in a battle and we’ve got to be way better.”
It won’t help St. Louis that Edmonton will have back veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament last spring in Game 5 of the Oilers’ second-round playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks. That was seven months ago, and he hasn’t played since.
However, he went through a full practice Wednesday and is expected to be back in action Thursday.
The Oilers will be getting back a veteran defenseman with over 600 games of NHL experience, but Sekera likely will come in as a straight swap for Oscar Klefbom, who was placed on injured reserve with what is being called a nagging injury.
Sekera was paired with defenseman Matt Benning in practice.
“I feel as good as I need to feel to be playing at this level,” Sekera said. “I’ll just go out, play hard and try to help this team win a game. I am ready to roll. … I am excited, not nervous.”
Sekera said he won’t try to do too much.
“I’ll just try to play a hard, simple game and try to make sure they like me on the ice when they play with me, not the other way.”
Klefbom’s absence, plus the fact the Oilers are seven points out of a playoff spot, mean Edmonton can’t ease Sekera back into the lineup. Sekera won’t get a game or two at the minor league level, as is the practice with many players getting back into game shape after long-term injuries.
“We would have preferred to have some type of game to put him in and get the rust off,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said, “but we don’t have that. He’s got to play his first (NHL) game at some point. I think the players are excited. Maybe it’ll add a bit of energy to our group.”
The coach said Sekera will get time on special teams units. At home this season, the Oilers’ penalty kill has been abysmal — a 58.33 percent success rate.