BLUE JACKETS (15-20-9) at OILERS (16-22-5)
Last 10 -- Columbus 1-6-3, Edmonton 1-8-1
Season series -- Two meetings so far, each going to the home team. The Oilers blasted past the Blue Jackets in winning 6-4 on Oct. 22. Columbus then evened the series with a 3-2 shootout win at Nationwide Arena on Nov. 16. That gave the Jackets a very respectable 11-6-2 record at the time. They're 4-14-7 since.
Big story -- After decent starts, both teams have gone into a free-fall to the bottom of the Western Conference, the Blue Jackets with the slight two-point edge over the cellar-dwelling Oilers. The Jackets are 1-9-4 since Dec. 10 while the Oilers are 1-9-1 in their last 11 games. Saying that both could use the two points is an understatement.
Blue Jackets -- It was way back on Nov. 19 that the Jackets last won on the road, a 4-1 victory at Dallas. Since then, they're 0-9-4 away from Nationwide Arena. Things haven't gotten any better on this trip, which started with a disastrous turn in Vancouver. After getting a 2-0 jump on the Canucks seven minutes in, Steve Mason allowed a bad goal that turned the game around and turned the vaunted line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows loose. They accounted for four goals (including a Burrows hat trick) and five assists as the Canucks defrocked the Jackets 7-3.
All this losing raised concerns over whether coach Ken Hitchcock's job is on the line, especially with GM Scott Howson joining the team in Edmonton after watching the World Junior Championship in Saskatoon.
"It's tough for him, it's tough for everybody," Jackets goaltender Mathieu Garon, who replaced Mason after the sixth goal, told the Columbus Dispatch. "Nobody is safe when you go through a stretch like this. We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, look at what we are doing wrong."
"There's a reason you lose a lot of games on the road, and it's more than bad luck," Hitchcock said. "These are competitive areas, and we need to address them. We need a lot more people competing at a higher level. We have had that, but we had people who were pushed out of the game today."
Oilers -- Edmonton played hard Tuesday night against Phoenix, but that means little when it doesn't produce a win. The Oilers came back from 2-0 and 4-2 deficits but couldn't hold off the Coyotes, who relied on Shane Doan to exploit an unwise Oiler penalty and score on the power play in overtime to seal a 5-4 win despite being outshot 42-30.
"Definitely a disappointing loss, but we can definitely take a lot out of it," center Sam Gagner said. "We battled hard, we got some goals, more goals than we've had in the last few games, and we were able to show a lot of character in coming back."
The losing has become acute enough that the team canceled a midseason golf trip to Palm Springs in favor of a minicamp.
"There was a plan, a good one by our management and ownership, to give our players a little bit of a break, which seemed pretty smart in August," coach Pat Quinn said. "But it doesn't feel, as a coach, very smart right now.
"We have this window, it's the only one we have all year. We can't (practice) during the Olympic break, and by then it might be too late, anyway. This is a very important four days for us."
Who's hot -- Columbus defenseman Kris Russell was a bright spot for the Jackets in the Vancouver game with a goal and a pair of assists. Edmonton center Patrick O'Sullivan has six points in his last six games.
Injury report -- Oilers defenseman Steve Staios was helped off the ice after blocking a shot in the third period of the Coyotes game and is questionable. Winger Fernando Pisani made it back to the lineup after missing 23 games with ulcerative colitis. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin continues to nurse his back injury, allowing a total of eight weeks to determine whether surgery is needed. Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky sprained his ankle in the Calgary game on New Year's Eve. It's not a high sprain but he still can't get his foot into his skate.
Columbus winger Alexandre Picard sat out the Vancouver game and remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, while Raffi Torres also didn't play due to illness. He is also day-to-day.
Stat pack -- The Blue Jackets are 4-11-2 all-time in Edmonton, but they are 4-4-2 against the Oilers in their last 10 meetings. The three goals they scored against the Canucks was the first time in a team-record 10 games in which they managed to score more than twice. … The Oilers have only managed to score more than two goals twice in their previous nine.
Puck drop -- "Hitch is one of the best coaches in the league in my opinion," Rick Nash said in the Dispatch. "He's laying everything right there on the line for us. It's a matter of us going out and doing it. I wish I could give a reason for why these games happen, but I don't."