The Oilers will try and salvage their five game road trip with a win tonight against their former goalie, Mathieu Garon and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Oilers enjoy playing at Nationwide Arena racking up an impressive 9-3-3-1 record since the Jackets came into the league in 2000. The Oilers have scored 56 goals in 16 games while giving up 38.
Special teams are pretty much a saw off between these two. The Oilers are 79.2% on the PK and the Jackets are 79.3%, while the Oilers’ PP is clicking at 21% and Columbus is 21.7%.
The Oilers PP percentage wise has been okay, but yesterday they couldn’t get the timely goal from the man advantage. In fact, their PP looked awful yesterday, never setting up and rarely getting a shot. It was Souray’s first game back and he looked understandable rusty. I’d guess he will look better tonight.
The second quarter of the season starts tonight, and as I stated in my report card, the Oilers need to have a better second quarter to stay in the hunt. Columbus will be one of the teams the Oilers have to beat out if they want to make the playoffs, and heading into tonight the Jackets are four points up with two games in hand. A regulation loss would put the Oilers six back and the potential for the gap to be bigger if the Jackets win one or both of the games in hand.
Sure it’s only game 21, but don’t fool yourself Oiler fan, the Oilers can’t be in ten-point hole come January and expect to make up that much ground in the three-point-game era. They need to keep treading water, stick close to the pack and hope that they can get on a run and get production from some forwards not named Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner.
Tonight Pat Quinn will go with Nikolai Khabibulin, which is a bit of a surprise considering Quinn wanted to avoid playing him in back-to-back games. I think it shows that Quinn understands the importance of this game and really wants a win. Or he doesn’t have any confidence in Deslauriers, which is a topic for another day.
The Oilers don’t want to go to a shootout, because Mathieu Garon is the best in the league in the SO, with a career record of 17-4. Garon has been playing well at 3-1 with a 2.60 GAA and a solid .923SV%.
The Oilers might be without Sam Gagner tonight. Gagner blocked a shot in Atlanta and according to Quinn he is doubtful for tonight. If Gagner can’t go, then Quinn has to a choice to make. Would he move Gilbert Brule up and slot him in between Mike Comrie and Patrick O’Sullivan. Or will he put O’Sullivan in the middle and insert Robert Nilsson on the wing with Comrie.
Andrew Cogliano will play with Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini on the other line it looks like.
Nilsson hasn’t been good so maybe Strudwick might move up to the wing and Dean Arsene could slot in for his first NHL game after seven and a half seasons in the AHL. The reason Quinn might go with Strudwick and Arsene and keep Nilsson out is because the Blue Jackets have lots of size dressed tonight.
Columbus’ fourth line will consist of Jared Boll, 6’3” 210 pounds, Tom Sestito, 6’5” 220 pounds and Michael Blunden, 6’4” 211 pounds. Quinn might be concerned his team could get taken advantage of tonight, so he might go with Strudwick on the wing and Arsene on the blueline.
Look for Hemsky to be productive tonight. Hemsky loves playing the Jackets. He had eight points in four game last year and has 25 points in 21 games over his career.