BLUE JACKETS (32-21-15) at OILERS (36-24-8)
Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, Rogers Place, Edmonton (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
John Tortorella remembers the last time the Blue Jackets were in Edmonton and hopes he'll have a much different feeling about the Alberta city this time around.
Last year, Columbus was in the heat of a playoff race and facing a crucial game against the Oilers, who were playing out another lost season without postseason hockey. The Blue Jackets instead delivered a clunker, though, falling 4-1 in a loss that put the team's playoff hopes on life support.
The team went from there to Vancouver, though, and had a heart-to-heart meeting that resulted in a turnaround. Columbus beat the Canucks to kick-start a stretch in which it won seven of eight games to end the season and qualify for the playoffs.
"I remember the last one (here)," Tortorella said. "That's what started our process as far as in Vancouver and some very healthy and pinpointed discussions that saved our season last year. Hopefully we'll not put ourselves in that type of situation going into our next game."
To avoid such a disappointment this time around, Columbus will need to look to its defensive identity, especially in playing two of the top players in the NHL in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The former is the 2017 winner of the Hart Trophy and the latter has become the odds-on favorite this year after becoming the first NHL player to 100 points this season.
The two have combined for 75 goals and 205 points this season, and they are particularly tough against Columbus, with the pair combining for four goals and 15 points in the last three matchups against the Blue Jackets.
But the Columbus found its defensive game in Calgary, using quick sticks and fundamental positioning to keep the Flames at bay for most of a 3-2 overtime loss. Recovering their defensive posture was crucial for a team that had given up 4.0 goals per game over its previous 10 games, and there was a fair bit of video work going into the contest against the Flames to make sure the defensive structure was a focus.
"We had a good meeting before the game about getting back to that, and that's kind of our identity," defenseman Scott Harrington said. "Players are so skilled and fast in the NHL and to be able to play defensively with a good stick, that's really the only way you're going to slow teams down or you'll be chasing them around in your zone the entire night.
"I thought we did a really good job (against Calgary) and I think now that's something we realize is effective and hopefully we can remind ourselves of that for each game down the stretch."
Know the Foe
The Oilers have rode improved defense, a dominant power play and two of the best players in the game to a bounce-back season, as Edmonton is second in the Pacific Division and will likely make the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17 and just the second time in 14 seasons since making the Stanley Cup final in 2005-06.
Everyone in hockey knows the dominance of Draisaitl and McDavid. The former has almost run away from the field at the top of the NHL scoring charts with 43 goals and 67 assists for 110 points, 15 more than second place. That's McDavid, who is posting a not too shabby 32-63-95 line to place right behind Draisaitl in the league in scoring.
After that, though, the offensive depth isn't as strong. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is next up with 21 goals and 59 points, but no other Oilers player has more than 35 points. Defenseman Oscar Klefbom, who has been out of late with a shoulder injury but could return vs. Columbus, has a 5-28-33 line, while Zach Kassian and defenseman Darnell Nurse are next up with 32 points. James Neal has cooled off considerably from a hot start but has 19 goals, while Kailer Yamamoto has been a big addition with an 11-13-24 line in 24 games since being called up.
Defensively, the team is improved, placing 15th in the NHL in goals allowed per game at 3.04 after giving up 3.31 per contest last season. The team has gotten credible performances in net from a pair of goalies in Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, who have played in 38 and 36 games, respectively. Smith is 19-11-6 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .903 save percentage, while Koskinen is 17-13-2 with a 2.80 GAA and .914 save percentage.
The Oilers are also lethal on the power play, with a success rate of 29.8 percent to place first in the league, almost five percent better than second-place Boston. At 5-on-5, though, the team has been outscored 154-135.
3 Keys to the Game
Bring energy: Columbus has been blown out three straight times by the Oilers by a combined score of 12-2. They've been some of the lowest-energy showings of Tortorella's tenure, the head coach said, so that will need to change.
Stay out of the box: The Blue Jackets are generally pretty good at avoiding penalties -- the Blue Jackets have an NHL-least 165 penalty kills -- and that is essential against the Oilers' NHL-leading power play.
Handle the big guns: Easier said than done, of course, but any game plan when it comes to beating the Oilers comes down to at least slowing down McDavid and Draisaitl.
Columbus has points in 32 of 39 games (21-7-11). … The team's 15 overtime losses lead the NHL. … Werenski leads all NHL defensemen with a CBJ-record 20 goals from the blue line this season. He is the first-ever Blue Jacket to reach 20 goals in a season and just the second blueliner in the league to hit the milestone the past three seasons (Toronto's Morgan Rielly, 20 last year). … Werenski is also two games from 300 in his career. ... Emil Bemstrom has scored in four of six games while Nick Foligno has a 4-3-7 line in his last seven games. Gus Nyquist has goals in two straight. … Alexander Wennberg is one point from 200 in his career. … The Blue Jackets are in the midst of a stretch of six straight games vs. Western Conference foes. … The Blue Jackets are a combined 11-3-2 on Western Canada trips since 2014-15. ... Columbus has played 42 one-goal games this season out of 68.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Nick Foligno
Alexander Wennberg - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Emil Bemstrom
Kevin Stenlund - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson
Jakob Lilja - Devin Shore - Stefan Matteau
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Zach Werenski - Markus Nutivaara
Scott Harrington - Andrew Peeke
Scratches: Oliver Bjorkstrand (injury), Nathan Gerbe (injury), Ryan MacInnis, Ryan Murray (injury), Gabriel Carlsson, Elvis Merzlikins
Roster Report: Tortorella said Saturday morning that Ryan Murray is nicked up and out of the lineup, with Nutivaara going back in. No other changes are expected with Korpisalo in as the starter; Merzlikins practiced again Friday but it is unclear if he will suit up in Edmonton.