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Jackets start Western Canada trip in Edmonton

by David Kalan
BLUE JACKETS (22-40-7) at OILERS (26-36-7)


Last 10: Columbus 5-5-0; Edmonton 3-6-1.

Season Series: The Jackets and Oilers have split two games this season, with Columbus taking the most recent meeting, 4-2 on Jan. 17 at Nationwide Arena.

Big Story: For both of these teams, the final few weeks of the season will largely be an attempt to play spoiler against playoff hopefuls. With both Columbus and Edmonton well out of the race, Wednesday night's game will serve as a barometer for each team of where they are, as well as an attempt by the Jackets to dig out of their place in the League cellar.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: There are 30 teams in the NHL and while, realistically, several teams are likely out of contention for the postseason only Columbus has been mathematically eliminated from the playoff chase. It has been a very difficult season in Ohio, one in which the Jackets dealt with high expectations, injuries, a coaching change and the Rick Nash trade deadline saga. As they near the end of the season, however, there is reason for optimism. The Jackets have played markedly better of late, winning a season-high four games in a row before being swept in a home-and-home by conference-leading St. Louis last weekend.

Even in those two games Columbus appeared to acquit itself fairly well, particularly in Sunday night's 2-1 loss in which the Jackets outshot the Blues 34-26, but were stymied by an impressive performance from St. Louis' Jaroslav Halak. As the team opens a three-game road trip through Western Canada, it will try to build on its recent stretch of solid play in hopes that it could carry over to next season.

Oilers: The Jackets are the only team to have been eliminated from postseason contention so far, but the Oilers are not far behind. A promising start has devolved into a disappointing campaign that will likely send Edmonton to its sixth consecutive early spring row. The Oilers currently sit in 14th place in the West and are closer in the standings to 15th-place Columbus than they are to 13th-place Minnesota.

The team suffered a particularly rough loss Monday night against San Jose, its sixth in the last seven games, which prompted a strong reaction from its typically relaxed coach Tom Renney. Even with the Oil likely headed for a last-place finish in the Northwest Division for a third straight season, Renney has made it plain that he expects to see a stronger performance Wednesday night.

Who's Hot: Taylor Hall, who has already bested his rookie season output by 10 points in six fewer games, has scored in his last three outings. ... Mark Letestu has three goals and two assists in his last four games for Columbus.

Injury Report: Both Derek Dorsett (upper-body injury) and Steve Mason (lacerated left hand) are considered doubtful for Columbus, which is also missing Derek MacKenzie (concussion) and Fedor Tyutin (broken right hand), who went down with injuries last week.

Stat Pack: Renney cited the Oilers' lackluster penalty kill when he highlighted issues from Monday's loss to the Sharks -- and for good reason. Edmonton has killed just 13 of the last 21 power plays its faced, good for just 61.9 percent. That's good news for Columbus, which has struggled with the extra man lately -- they Jackets are in an 0-for-24 slump.

Puck Drop: It is easy to say that both Edmonton and Columbus are simply playing out the string at this point, but the Jackets have shown improvement in recent weeks that will be important for the team to build on as it looks toward 2012-13. As for the Oilers, look no further than their coach. After a lackluster performance Monday night, Edmonton will have plenty to prove Wednesday.

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