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BLUE JACKETS (5-2-0) at OILERS (5-2-1)
Season series -- These two teams split their four meetings last year, with right wing Ales Hemsky producing three goals and five assists in the first three for Edmonton. Steve Mason had 19 saves in a 1-0 Columbus victory Feb. 26 in the last matchup.
Big story -- This is not the typical Columbus team that used to take its lumps traveling through Alberta, though a 6-3 loss in Calgary might indicate otherwise, their record in the Pengrowth Saddledome dropping to 5-11-1. That's only slightly better than the 4-10-2 mark they've posted at Edmonton's Rexall Place, despite splitting the two games there last year and managing a 3-3-2 mark versus the Oilers in their last eight meetings.
Blue Jackets -- Can you imagine a team going 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, 2 of 7 on the power play, scoring a shorthanded goal 3-on-5 and losing by three goals? It happened to the Blue Jackets in Calgary on Tuesday. For one thing, it was the night Jarome Iginla had his long-awaited breakout from his season-opening scoring slump with a goal and two assists. For another, it was a rare hiccup for goalie Steve Mason.
"He struggled, he really struggled," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said of Mason. "The difference in the hockey game was when it was 3-3, Kiprusoff had to make six or seven great saves and then when it was 4-3, he had to make three or four unbelievable saves and he did it, and that's what got them the two points."
Mason will likely get the night off in favor of Mathieu Garon, who would be making his second start of the season. Garon had played for the Oilers from 2007-09 before being dealt to Pittsburgh Jan. 17. He has a win to his credit, a 36-save, 2-0 victory in Phoenix. He's 2-5-1 with a 3.56 GAA against Edmonton.
Oilers -- One thing for sure, the Oilers have been taking advantage of a favorable early schedule with seven of their first nine at Rexall Place, winning all their home games save for two to the Flames. Lately, though, the Oilers have been fighting a flu bug that took hold early in the week and forced coach Pat Quinn to cancel practice on Tuesday. Ales Hemsky and Gilbert Brule are two players who fell ill over the past week. Ladislav Smid joined the ranks of the afflicted as well.
"We think we have four, maybe five guys showing some stuff. It's all regular stuff (not H1N1) but we're taking as many precautions as we can," Quinn said to the Calgary Herald after the win over Vancouver. "We're going to have everybody stay at home, stay away from each other, to see if we can nullify anything that might be going around."
Who's Hot -- Rick Nash has all of his 11 points in the last six games, including short-handed goals in his last two, one of which was that particularly sweet 3-on-5 tally Tuesday. He has become such an effective penalty-killer that teams have begun to concentrate more on keeping him from scoring short-handed than on scoring themselves. The numbers certainly bear it out, at 96.55 percent, the Jackets' PK is tops in the NHL by a significant margin. In Edmonton, however, his struggles mirror the rest of the team, with one goal and no assists in nine games.
Nikolai Khabibulin is back to his old self after a forgettable preseason and first two games. In his last four starts, he stopped 135 of 144 shots for a .937 save percentage.
The Oilers have seen an improvement on faceoffs overall from last year and it might be something as simple as using Shawn Horcoff more often on draws. Last year alone, his win percentage eclipsed the rest of the team by almost 10 points.
Injury Report -- Columbus defenseman Mike Commodore (groin) is practicing and is expected back in the lineup soon, possibly in Los Angeles or Anaheim over the weekend.
Oilers left winger Ryan Stone had an MRI on Tuesday and a scope Wednesday. It is believed he has a meniscus tear, which would knock him out of action 2-4 weeks
Stat Pack -- Since the start of the 2007-08 season, Nash has 11 short-handed goals, second in the NHL behind Philadelphia's Mike Richards (12). The Blue Jackets are 3-1 when allowing the first goal.
Puck Drop -- It's an opportunity for the Blue Jackets to show some resilience during a traditionally tough road trip and possibly take advantage of a flu-hobbled Edmonton team. The Oilers, though, are just as capable of exposing the Jackets' weaknesses as the Flames were a couple of nights ago.
-- Matt Mankiewich, NHL.com