Oilers-Blue Jackets Preview

The Associated Press

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers both seem destined to finish in last place again.

These lowly clubs have three meetings left this season - the first Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena - that may only serve to help determine the NHL draft order.

Columbus (12-27-5) owns the NHL's worst record as it nears a third straight finish at the bottom of the Central Division, while Edmonton (17-23-4) is likely headed for a third straight season in last in the Northwest.

The Blue Jackets fired coach Scott Arniel on Jan. 9, and have lost two of three since Todd Richards took over. Columbus is looking to the future, with ice time going to youngsters like Ryan Johansen, John Moore and David Savard.

"We're taking baby steps, and that's what it's going to take," goaltender Curtis Sanford said. "We have young guys in the lineup that need to learn how to play with consistency."

The Oilers have stumbled since an 8-2-2 start and they're playing without leading scorers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Those injured standouts have combined for 78 points and are expected to be out until the All-Star break.

Edmonton is also missing defensemen Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Cam Barker.

Second-year winger Taylor Hall has been forced to pick up his production, and he's done so with nine points in his last nine games.

"I guess if you just look at the last couple of weeks, the one player that has just answered the bell every night would be Taylor," coach Tom Renney said. "He is all of that. If you want to know what passion looks like in a hockey player, just watch Taylor."

Hall scored the winning goal on the power play in Sunday's 2-1 overtime home victory over Los Angeles as the Oilers ended an 0-4-1 stretch.

"Overtime goals are pretty special and something that you never forget, and definitely a confidence booster," Hall said.

Edmonton's 21.8 percentage on the power play is one of the NHL's best marks. That could be a big advantage since Columbus' penalty-kill unit is the worst in the Western Conference at 76.7 percent.

Hall was out with a left shoulder injury for the first matchup between these teams, the Oilers' 6-3 home win Dec. 2. Ryan Jones had his first career hat trick as Edmonton scored five third-period goals.

The home team has won the last six meetings between these clubs, but Hall should have pleasant memories of Nationwide Arena, where he scored his first NHL goal in a 3-2 shootout loss Oct. 28, 2010.

The Blue Jackets - playing without key contributors James Wisniewski, Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger - have split the first two games of their four-game homestand, winning 4-3 over Phoenix on Friday and falling 2-1 to San Jose the next night.

"We showed a lot of resolve and a lot of character late," Sanford said. "That's a trait that we're going to have to have moving forward."

Sanford has started all three games under Richards, and he's 6-3-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average in 10 career starts against the Oilers.

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