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Although the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers are separated by only four points, they have contrasting outlooks.
To continue their push for the first playoff berth in franchise history, the Blue Jackets (17-15-6) look to overcome their struggles against the Oilers (16-19-4) when the teams meet on Monday at Nationwide Arena.
Edmonton has won the last three meetings by a combined 12-3 score, including a 3-1 home win on Nov. 26 in the only matchup this season, to improve to 17-3-2 with three ties all-time against Columbus. The Oilers, however, enter this meeting mired in a season-high five-game losing streak.
The Blue Jackets are trying to build momentum entering the new year after a 4-1 home win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, and look to win back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 23-24.
"That's the kind of hockey we need to play if we're going to win and keep ourselves in the mix for a playoff race," Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire said. "We're playing with confidence and guys aren't afraid to make mistakes. Guys are backing each other up. It's a good mood right now and we just have to keep the ball rolling."
The Oilers had been struggling to score lately, but their defense disappointed in a 5-4 overtime loss at Minnesota on Saturday. They blew a 4-1 lead late in the second period.
Edmonton, which had totaled five goals over its previous four games, lost by one goal for the fourth time during this five-game slide. This is the club's longest losing streak since a six-game skid from March 24-April 5.
"We're still trying to figure out what kind of team we are," said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau said. "It's going to be imperative we find out pretty quick, because everyone knows it gets a lot tougher in the second half."
Saturday marked the first regular-season game for Moreau since Oct. 21, 2006. He missed all but seven games last season due to a dislocated shoulder, and a foot injury kept him sidelined for the first 38 games of this season.
While Edmonton hopes Moreau can provide a boost, Columbus will continue looking for one from Nikolai Zherdev. The fourth-year winger had two goals and two assists for a career-high tying four points on Saturday.
Zherdev had only a goal and two assists over his previous seven games, but is second on the team with 31 points.
"He's as good as anybody in the National Hockey League with the puck," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He makes plays very few players in the world can make and he does it at top speed."
The return of left wing Rick Nash, who leads the Blue Jackets in goals (18) and points (32), also may help their offense. Nash had missed the previous two games with a throat problem that hampered his breathing. He assisted on Zherdev's second goal to end a career-high seven-game pointless drought.
Neither Zherdev nor Nash has a point in his last four games against the Oilers.
The Oilers hope Shawn Horcoff can end a drought of his own. Horcoff, who leads Edmonton in goals (16) and points (34), has gone pointless in the last five games.
He hasn't been helped by linemate Ales Hemsky sitting out the last two games with a knee injury. It's uncertain if Hemsky will return Monday.
The Oilers had killed 18 of 19 short-handed situations over their previous five games, but the Wild went 2-for-5 on the power play on Saturday.
"We sat back and let them take their game to us, and that's the opposite thing of what you've got to do," Oilers center Kyle Brodziak said. "Really disappointing."
The Blue Jackets are 4-for-16 on the power play in their last three games after an 0-for-19 drought.