GAME DAY: Edmonton
Blue Jackets begin a crucial back-to-bet set in Alberta with tonight's game at Rexall Place
It should come as no surprise that the deeper the Blue Jackets get into their schedule, the more urgent and important each game becomes.
That's kind of how a playoff race goes, right?
As the cliche coach's phrase goes, the most important game is the next game. In this case, it's a Thursday night showdown with the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place, and an Oilers club that's feeling pretty good about itself coming off a 3-0 shutout of the St. Louis Blues on the road. After lurking near the bottom of the standings in the early part of the season, the Oilers have themselves back in the mix for a playoff spot in the Western Conference but they're running short on time and games.
With a 12-13-7 record entering their game against the Blue Jackets, the Oilers are three points back of the "playoff bar" with 16 games to go. And like we often talk about in the same breath as the points and games in hand, the other important factor is the number of teams that need to be passed over in order to get into playoff position. It's not easy for any club, but for a team coming from underneath the pack (like the Oilers and Blue Jackets are currently doing), picking up points on a regular basis is something that just has to happen. If not, you can quickly tumble out of the race.
Neither team wants to see that happen, which makes Thursday's game all the more intriguing. The Oilers - who have had some struggles on home ice - are a confident group that wants to further climb the ladder, and the Blue Jackets are desperate to accumulate points on this pivotal west coast road trip. Columbus starts a back-to-back set (also plays Friday night in Calgary) in Edmonton and can ill afford to let points fall by the wayside with the majority of its remaining schedule spent away from Nationwide Arena, while the Oilers run the risk of putting themselves in a near-insurmountable hole if they don't pick up some wins.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards was happy that his team was able to leave Vancouver with a point, but he wasn't happy with how they got it: the Canucks out-played the Jackets for most of the first 40 minutes, but Sergei Bobrovsky was outstanding in making 34 saves for his third shutout of the season. It's expected that "Bob" will get the start against the Oilers.
- The Blue Jackets (at 2.15 goals per game) have the lowest offensive output in the NHL, but Bobrovsky's play in the month of March has kept them in the conversation. The 24-year-old netminder holds a 1.23 goals-against average while going 8-1-3 in his last 12 appearances, and has three shutouts in his last nine games.
- The Oilers have won four straight against the Blue Jackets at home and are 17-4-1 in Rexall Place, including a 3-0, 22-save shutout by Devan Dubnyk in the Blue Jackets' previous visit, March 14, 2012.
- Columbus and Edmonton have split their first two meetings this season with the most recent being a 4-3 shootout win for the Blue Jackets on Mar. 5, a game in which Bobrovsky came on in relief of Steve Mason and made a terrific save on Jordan Eberle in overtime that forced a shootout. That win by the Blue Jackets was their second of a season-high five consecutive victories.
CENTER | #10
2013 STATS: 5-2-7, 15 GP
With the Oilers thin at center ice due to injury of late, they welcomed their captain back into the lineup with open arms a couple of weeks ago. The 34-year-old pivot still has a lot of game in his 12th NHL season and his ability to log important minutes (anywhere between 16-20 per game) is an asset that coach Ralph Kreuger can put to good use. Horcoff has a pair of goals in his last four games and played a solid game in the Oilers' win over St. Louis.
COLUMBUS: James Wisniewski (foot), questionable; Derek Dorsett (clavicle), on IR; Nick Foligno (undisclosed), questionable; Brandon Dubinsky (undisclosed)
EDMONTON: Eric Belanger (groin), on IR; Andy Sutton (knee), indefinitely