Oilers, Blue Jackets both in must-win mode
Two teams with little-to-no room for error in the playoff chase meet in a Saturday afternoon matinee when the Edmonton Oilers visit the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After adding Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Adam McQuaid in pre-trade deadline deals, the Blue Jackets are clearly in win-now mode. Just getting into the postseason, however, is no guarantee for Columbus given the crowded state of the Western Conference and Metropolitan Division standings.
The Blue Jackets are coming off a 4-3 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, their first victory with all their new faces in the lineup.
"Obviously the guys we brought in are well-established and they're great players. But, I think just for team chemistry, team bonding, whatever you want to call it, it feels good whenever you bear down and maybe get an ugly win," defenseman Scott Harrington said. "We'll definitely take it at this time of year when it's so tight in our division."
The Oilers' path to the playoffs is even more of an uphill battle. Edmonton is 3-1-1 over its last five games, but will have to leapfrog five teams in the standings to steal a Western Conference playoff berth.
An improbable late-season surge can only happen if the Oilers receive help from all across the lineup. Thursday's 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators was a positive step in this direction, as rookies Josh Currie (two assists) Colby Cave (scored the game-winning goal) played major roles.
"Every day they're with us, they're proving that they belong for a look," Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock said about the duo, while also noting that Cave and Currie are doing more than simply "surviving" against NHL competition.
"They're not surviving, they're helping us. To me, Cave's getting better, you can see daily improvement. The composure that Currie has is really helping a lot," Hitchcock said. "I don't know where we'd be without the addition of these couple of guys to help augment what we've got going."
Mikko Koskinen has started Edmonton's last nine games in net, and could get the call again on Saturday. If not Koskinen, backup Anthony Stolarz could get his first start since being acquired in a trade from Philadelphia on February 15.
The Blue Jackets are likely to split goaltending duties this weekend, as the team has another game on Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets. Sergei Bobrovsky could get his sixth straight start in net if he faces Edmonton, or Columbus could opt to save Bobrovsky for the Jets and start Joonas Korpisalo against the Oilers.
Bobrovsky posted a 2.09 goals against average and a .926 save percentage over 11 games in February. The goalie went 8-3-0 over that stretch.
Only eight of Columbus' last 19 games are on home ice, though the Blue Jackets might not mind the extra travel given their modest success in their own building. The club has one of the league's best road records (19-10-1), but the Blue Jackets are just 17-14-2 in home games this season.
Oilers center Leon Draisaitl is on a nine-game point streak, and has 22 points (15 goals, seven assists) over his last 17 games.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 1, 2019