Oilers’ Sekera set to return from injury vs. Blues

EDMONTON, Alberta — The Edmonton Oilers likely will be up a defenseman and down a defenseman when they face the St. Louis Blues on Thursday at Rogers Place.

Veteran Andrej Sekera 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 finally 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 as the Oilers (15-17-2) prepared to play a Blues team that has absolutely owned Edmonton so far this season, winning the previous encounters 4-1 and 8-3.

“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, means 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 the special teams units. At home this season, the Oilers’ penalty kill has been abysmal, with a lowly 58.33 percent success rate. That is concerning, considering the Blues have lit up the Oilers for 12 total goals over the previous two encounters this season.

However, the Oilers have won their past two game while the Blues have lost two in a row, with St. Louis scoring just once in that pair of games.

The Blues (22-12-2) are without center Jaden Schwartz, who has 35 points in 30 games, and veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Both on injured reserve with long-term ailments.

So if there is a time for the Oilers to end their miserable run against the Blues, maybe it is now. And the Blues feel 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 Brayden Schenn, who had 39 points in 36 games for the Blues. “They’re winning some hockey games 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.”

Blues coach Mike Yeo added, “It’s a matter of making sure that you’re prepared to play the right way and to play that way for 60 minutes, and we haven’t been doing that.”

The Oilers recalled winger Anton Slepyshev from their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif., on Tuesday, just one day after sending him down. Slepyshev fills the void left by Nathan Walker, who was claimed off waivers by the Washington Capitals. The move continued a dizzying sequence Walker, an Australian who played just two games for the Oilers after Edmonton claimed him off waivers from Washington.