Blue Jackets-Oilers Preview
When play resumes after the All-Star break, it's usually a time for NHL teams to gear up for a postseason run.
At the other end of the standings, the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets may instead be focused on gaining the services of Auston Matthews.
These are two of three clubs tied with an NHL-worst 43 points as they resume their dismal campaigns Tuesday night, with the Oilers expected to welcoming back Connor McDavid for this home matchup.
Instead of playoff positioning, Edmonton (19-26-5) and Columbus (19-27-5) could be more worried about draft positioning. Matthews is considered the top available player, and these teams are among six within four points of each other at the bottom of the NHL standings who no doubt are coveting the No. 1 overall selection.
The Oilers picked first last year and grabbed McDavid, the consensus top selection.
McDavid is nearing a return since breaking his clavicle Nov. 3 and practiced with Bakersfield of the American Hockey League over the break. After centering a line with Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot and getting the approval of coach Todd McLellan at practice Monday, McDavid - who had 12 points in 13 games - is eager to get back to playing.
"Anxious is probably the better word,'' he said. ''I'm excited. It feels like my first game all over again.
"The doctors wouldn't let me play if I wasn't 100 percent,'' he said. ''They say it's safe to play, so it's safe to play.''
His return could help a power play ranked fifth-worst at 16.6 percent. Edmonton is already without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is third on the team with 30 points and out with a lower-body injury.
The Oilers lost their final three games before the break, falling 4-1 to Nashville on Jan. 23.
Columbus is expected to have coach John Tortorella back for this three-game trip. Tortorella broke two ribs falling after a collision with forward Rene Bourque during an outdoor practice Jan. 22 and did not coach the last three games before the break.
The Blue Jackets are seeking their second three-game win streak after back-to-back 5-2 victories over Montreal last Monday and Tuesday. Cam Atkinson scored four goals and added an assist while Brandon Saad had three goals.
"I think we're going to take this momentum down the home stretch after this much-needed break," defenseman Dalton Prout said.
Joonas Korpisalo started both of those contests, improving to 4-0-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average in his last five starts. Edmonton will start Cam Talbot or Anders Nilsson.
The Blue Jackets are allowing a league-worst 3.16 goals per game while the Oilers are fourth-worst at 2.96.
Edmonton's Taylor Hall can match a season-best, six-game point streak. Hall, who took part in Sunday's All-Star Game, has seven points in his last five.
"It was a ton of fun," Hall said. "The city of Nashville, their fans were awesome. Just being around the guys and being able to experience the whole All-Star event was a whole lot of fun."
Columbus ended a slide of six straight regulation losses in Edmonton with a 4-3 shootout win March 18. The Blue Jackets have won three straight overall in this series.