COLUMBUS, OH - All streaks must come to an end at some point, right? The Oilers are hoping they can make that happen tonight as they look to halt the Columbus Blue Jackets' roll at 15 games.
The Blue Jackets have not lost a game since they were bested 2-1 in a shootout by the Florida Panthers on November 26. They crushed the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1 three days later and have been cruising ever since, winning all 14 of their games in December leading into tonight's first matchup of 2017 at Nationwide Arena.
The Oilers have had their share of success lately as well, though, losing just twice in regulation during their last 14 games. Edmonton is 7-2-5 in that span, with one of those regulation losses coming at the hands of the Blue Jackets, who posted a 3-1 victory at Rogers Place on December 13.
Add up all those facts and figures and you've got a much-anticipated showdown between two strong hockey clubs tonight in Ohio's capital city.
"It's an opportunity for us to play in a playoff environment," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "I'm sure it'll feel like that tonight here in this building. The intensity from what the opposition will bring, we have a number of players that haven't experienced that in their career, never mind lately. I'm looking forward to that. We'd like to take the two points out of the game, and we believe we have a chance to do that. But as we leave, we'll gain that playoff atmosphere experience as well."
The Oilers (19-12-7) have slipped to third place in the Pacific Division, two points back of the San Jose Sharks and one behind the Anaheim Ducks. A win tonight would not only snap their opponent's impressive winning streak, but also allow them to keep pace in the squished standings.
"It's a good opportunity for our team," said captain Connor McDavid. "They've been the best team in the NHL for almost a month now, so it's a good chance for us to put together a good win."
"It's exciting, because we can do something special here," echoed Patrick Maroon. "They're the best team in the league right now, and for us to come out and hopefully get a win, that shows us where we're at right now."
The Oilers were admittedly not on top of their game during their first meeting with Columbus. The home matchup was the team's 18th game in 32 days, so they're looking forward to a more concerted effort with a fresh crew.
"We were definitely at the end of a long stretch when we played them," McDavid said. "We still gave them a pretty good game. We're excited for tonight with a rested group."
The Oilers will get a boost on the back end tonight as veteran blueliner Andrej Sekera is expected to return to the lineup after missing the last two games due to an illness he picked up over the holiday break.
Coach McLellan said last week Sekera's energy level was down and he lost some weight, but the d-man said today his health is back to where it needs to be for game action.
"I'm really happy to be back to normal," he said. "Everything is behind me now and I'm ready to go 100%, so I'm looking forward to it."
Prior to missing the last two games, Sekera was contributing both offensively and defensively. He has produced 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists) and a +2 rating in his last 13 games, playing 22 or more minutes in 10 consecutive games, while passing the 26-minute mark on three occasions during that span.
Coach McLellan said he hopes Sekera can pick up right where he left off.
"If he's feeling like we think he is, which is back to normal, and he's sharp, then he'll play a lot of minutes," he said. "All indications are he'll be able to give us what he was giving us earlier."
"I'm ready for everything," Sekera added. "I will be playing as much minutes as they'll give me and try to do my job as usual."
While the Oilers have very much taken a by-committee approach to defence this season, Sekera had separated himself as the team's go-to blueliner through the first three months.
"I believe he's been our top defenceman for most of the season," McLellan said. "Offensively, defensively, power-play time, penalty kill… he's mature and he's played in these types of games before. I know he doesn't hurt us. He can only help us."
Here's a look at the projected Oilers lineup as they open their four-game road swing:
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (19-12-7) at BLUE JACKETS (26-5-4)
TV: 5:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game marks the second and final meeting between the Oilers and Blue Jackets this season and the lone game in Columbus. The last time these teams met in Columbus the Blue Jackets won by a score of 6-3.
The last time these teams met was on December 13th in Edmonton, where the Oilers were defeated by the Blue Jackets 3-1. Tyler Pitlick scored the Oilers lone goal, with assists from Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Edmonton was 7-2-5 in the month of December and are 5-2-3 in their last 10.
Forward Leon Draisaitl finished the month of December, ranking 17th in NHL scoring with 33 points (14G, 19). In the month of December, Draisaitl collected 16 points (7G, 9A) in 14 games, leading the Oilers in scoring. Draisaitl has points in five of his last six games.
In December, Draisaitl ranked seventh in NHL scoring.
Draisaitl has eight power play goals, tied for second in the NHL with Wayne Simmonds (PHI), Shea Weber (MTL) and Brayden Schenn (PHI), and trailing only Sidney Crosby (PIT), who has nine power play goals.
Goaltender Cam Talbot has made 30 or more saves in 15 games this season, including 30 of 32 against Vancouver on Dec. 31. Talbot's record in those games is 12-0-3. He also only allowed 3 or more goals in three of those games.
The native of Caledonia, Ont. leads the NHL in games played (34), minutes (2,033:04) and saves (946). With 18 wins, he is tied for fifth place in the NHL.
Blue Jackets team scope:
Columbus is by far the hottest team in the NHL right now, having won 15 straight games. Their most recent victory was on New Year's Eve when they defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2. Minnesota had won 12 in a row prior to that contest.
Offensively, the Blue Jackets are led by Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson. Atkinson leads the Blue Jackets with 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 35 games. Wennberg has eight goals and 33 points in 35 games to rank second on the team.
In the month of December, Atkinson was fourth in NHL scoring with nine goals and 17 points in 14 games. Brandon Saad and Sam Gagner both ranked 12 in the NHL with 15 points in 14 games.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky had a 12-0-0 record with a 1.75 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in December. Bobrovsky leads the NHL with 24 wins and is third in the NHL with a 1.95 GAA and is second in save percentage at .934.