EDMONTON – The silver lining for the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets is that somebody has to win the Battle of the Basement when the teams meet at Rexall Place on Thursday.
That’s about as good as it gets for the struggling Blue Jackets and Oilers, who will faceoff in a battle of teams occupying 14th and 15th place in the Western Conference.
The Oilers, coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday, have lost 10 of their last 11 games. The Blue Jackets, who lost 7-3 to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, have dropped a franchise-record 13 straight games on the road and five straight overall.
Both teams can’t lose.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just having a bad memory,” said Edmonton’s Sam Gagner, trying to inject a little humour into a difficult stretch. “Obviously, things aren’t going well and you want to learn from the mistakes you’re making, but we feel like we’re playing hard.
“We’ve got to continue to push forward. Every team in this league can bring a lot any night. Even the Blue Jackets right now, with the way they’re playing. It’s going to be a battle, just like every game is.”
The Oilers (16-23-5, 37 points) twice battled back from two-goal deficits against Phoenix before Coyotes captain Shane Doan decided it with a power-play goal in overtime. Edmonton is 9-10-3 at home.
The Blue Jackets (15-20-9, 39 points) blew a 2-0 first-period lead against the Canucks at G.M. Place. Coach Ken Hitchcock’s team is 6-13-4 on the road.
“You get really focused on your own team,” Edmonton coach Pat Quinn said. “We know what Columbus is trying to do.
“We know what Columbus has tried to do. I don’t care about Columbus in that sense. I want us to put 60 minutes together because it’s us and because we need to do it.”
With four days between games after facing the Blue Jackets, the Oilers had planned a weekend golf trip to Palm Springs, Calif., for players, wives and sponsors. But Quinn informed his players the junket was off after a 4-1 loss in San Jose on Jan. 2.
“It’s been tough for awhile now,” said Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff. “I wouldn’t say that the effort hasn’t been there.
“It’s just a matter of whether or not we’re scoring goals. The other aspect is we’re breaking down system-wise. We’re giving them easy goals. Right now, it’s difficult. We’re doing our best.”
Win or lose Thursday, the Oilers will instead spend the coming weekend on the ice doing drills, working out and going over videotape in what Quinn is calling a “mini-camp.” Edmonton closes out a four-game homestand against Nashville and Pittsburgh next week.
“The moment doubt starts to creep into your game, whether it’s doubt in yourself or doubt in anything around you, that’s when things are really going to go bad,” Gagner said. “If you think things are bad right now, they’ll get even worse.
“You’ve got to continue to bring a solid attitude to the rink every day. We’re going to get out of this.”
Already without Ales Hemsky, out for the season after shoulder surgery, and Nikolai Khabibulin, out since Nov. 16 with a back injury that might require season-ending surgery, Quinn lost veteran defenceman Steve Staios against the Coyotes when he hobbled off after taking a shot on the knee. Staios will like be a game-day decision against Columbus.
Robert Nilsson left practice Wednesday after taking a stick near the left eye during drills, but is expected to play. Lubomir Visnovsky, who has missed two games with a sprained ankle, skated on his own.
“It’s frustrating for everyone in here. It’s a tough time,” Horcoff said. “You’ve got to try to stay as positive as you can.
“We’ve got almost 40 games left. There’s a lot of hockey left.”