|Oilers head coach Tom Renney sensed his club getting content with its position near the bottom of the Western Conference standings a few weeks ago, and following a disappointing loss on home ice, he challenged the team to respond and finish the regular season on a positive note. After losing three straight games from Mar. 8-12, Edmonton has answered by earning points in six consecutive contests and posting a 4-0-2 record in that stretch. |
Never has the “spoiler” been so dangerous in the NHL, and down the stretch of this season, playoff-challenging teams are learning that the hard way. The Blue Jackets’ four-game winning streak earlier this month came against teams in contention for the last three playoff spots in the West, and the Oilers’ current run includes a victory over provincial rival Calgary – which is clinging to slim postseason hopes as the season reaches its final fortnight.
One of the bright spots for the Oilers has been the breakout season of skilled forward Jordan Eberle. The 21-year-old’s 32 goals lead the team, and the super sophomore is also Edmonton’s overall scoring leader with 71 points in 71 games played. Eberle is a key component of the potent Oiler power play unit, which is clicking at a 21.2 percent success rate and can be a difference-maker in hockey games. Without captain Shawn Horcoff in the lineup due to injury, Eberle will be counted on to play in different situations this afternoon – something he has proven to be comfortable doing.
The Blue Jackets dropped a 3-0 decision to the Oilers at Rexall Place less than two weeks ago that started a three-game Western Canadian road trip. They bounced back with a better effort in Vancouver only to come up a goal short, but capped it off with a 2-1 shootout win in Calgary the next night.
Steve Mason will start in goal for the Blue Jackets this afternoon, and he is expected to face veteran netminder Nikolai Khabibulin of Edmonton.
| || || |
|Nash (25) ||Eberle (32) |
|Prospal (34) ||Eberle (39) |
|Nash (48) ||Eberle (71) |
|Dorsett (196) ||Eager (94) |
|MacKenzie (+4) ||Gagner (+8) |
|Mason (14-24-3) |
|Dubnyk (18-17-2) |
|Sanford (2.60) ||Khabibulin (2.62) |
|Sanford (.911) ||Dubnyk (.914) || |
|• The Blue Jackets have gone 11-11-1 the last 23 games after posting a 4-15-2 mark the previous 21 outings. |
• LW R.J. Umberger snapped a seven-game goalless skid with a hat trick Friday against CAR. He had last scored Mar. 6 vs. PHX. The hat trick was the third of his career and first since Nov. 30, 2009 vs. STL. The multi-goal outing was his second in the last 20 games after he went the previous 58 games without one. He has recorded 11-13-24 the last 43 games after being held to 3-4-7 the first 26 games of the season.
•G Steve Mason stopped all 33 shots he faced to post a shutout Mar. 1 at COL. It was his first shutout since Feb. 22, 2011, a span of 49 games. He won four straight games Mar. 1-8 for first time since winning five-straight Feb. 13-25, 2011. He stopped 39-of-40 shots Friday against CAR and is now 9-5-1 with a 2.73 goals-against average and .921 save percentage his last 15 games after going 1-7-1 with a 3.73 GAA and .880 SV% the previous 10 games. He has also made 30 or more saves in 11 of his last 15 starts.
• Tonight marks fourth and final meeting overall and second of two at Nationwide Arena this season between the Blue Jackets and Oilers. Columbus is 14-23-6 all-time against Edmonton, including a 9-8-4 mark at Nationwide Arena. The home team has won eight straight games in the series, as well as 10 of the last 11.