Last 10: Edmonton 4-6-0; Colorado 6-4-0
Season Series: Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Northwest Division rivals. The Oilers hold the edge, 3-2, but the Avalanche took the most recent matchup by a 3-1 score on Feb. 17 in Edmonton. Ryan O'Reilly (1-6-7) leads the Avs in scoring, while Sam Gagner (2-5-7) paces the Oilers.
Big Story: This is the start of a brief, two-game homestand for Colorado, after which seven of its final 11 games will be played away from Pepsi Center. The Avalanche could really use a sweep of the four points available Saturday against the Oilers and Monday against the Ducks to stay as close as possible to the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.
Oilers: A recent surge by Columbus has narrowed its deficit to seven points as Edmonton attempts to avoid finishing 30th in the standings for a third straight season. With 58 points and 15 games still remaining, the Oilers seem a lock to better the 62 points they posted in each of the last two seasons. They've dropped four of their last five, though, including a 5-3 defeat on home ice Thursday at the hands of the equally struggling Canadiens. Taylor Hall continued to build on his strong sophomore season by scoring his 24th goal.
"We were flat tonight. A little undisciplined," coach Tom Renney said in the Edmonton Journal. "We could have been a smarter team tonight.
"It was one of those games where we were strong over top of our sticks, over top of the puck, over top of our checks. We weren't particularly strong at either net and we paid the price for it."
Avalanche: The red-hot goaltending of Semyon Varlamov has given Colorado hope heading down the stretch. He entered Thursday's game in Nashville on an eight-start stretch in which he had a pair of shutouts and gave up just a single goal four times. Varlamov stopped 27 shots against the Predators, but the Avalanche still suffered a tough 4-2 defeat sealed by a late empty-netter. Jamie McGinn opened the scoring 74 seconds into the first period, but the Avs surrendered the next three before Paul Stastny got them closer 4:58 into the third.
"We gave up a late goal there in the second that kind of set us back there a little bit," forward Cody McLeod said. "We had a great start, then let it get away from us and it's hard to play catch-up hockey in this league. It's tough to swallow."
Who's Hot: Shawn Horcoff and Jordan Eberle each have a pair of goals in the last three games for the Oilers. … McGinn has four goals and two assists during a three-game points streak for the Avalanche. Peter Mueller has four assists over the last three games.
Injury Report: Edmonton forward Ben Eager was out of the lineup Thursday due to flu-like symptoms. … Colorado forward Matt Duchene is out 3-4 weeks with a sprained right ankle. Forward Chuck Kobasew has missed the last five games with a back injury.
Stat Pack: Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 29 of 30 shots in winning his only start against the Avalanche this season, while Devan Dubnyk has a 2-2 mark with a 2.51 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. … Varlamov has started all five games against the Oilers, posting a 2.64 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Puck Drop: Concern over how Duchene's injury will impact Colorado's playoff hopes only grew after Thursday's performance in Nashville, which drew sharp criticism from coach Joe Sacco.
"The effort was inconsistent for me," he said. "I thought in a game like this that had such meaning, I thought we didn't have enough guys that really dug in for the whole 60 minutes tonight. That's not acceptable."