Ottawa Senators at Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 31, 2010

The Ottawa Senators are coming off one of their most disappointing losses of the season — a 4-0 dud against the Carolina Hurricanes.

THE STORY: The Ottawa Senators are coming off one of their most disappointing losses of the season — a 4-0 dud against the Carolina Hurricanes. That one hurt. The Senators and Hurricanes were both six points back of the free-falling Montreal Canadiens, and it provided a chance to get back into the playoff conversations. Back to Square One in Columbus.

THE SUBPLOTS: What happened to the old Brian Elliott? The Senators knew they could count on him for long stretches of outstanding hockey last season, but this year he is struggling mightily with consistency. The Carolina outing was so bad, it might have opened the door just enough for backup Mike Brodeur to step through an pick up a game or two.

THE WILDCARD: Erik Karlsson, Senators. There are two ways to look at the Karlsson situation. 1) It’s great that the undersized 20-year-old defenceman has become arguably the team’s best player, because it speaks to the Senators’ sudden ability to find high-end players in the draft again. 2) What does it say about the rest of the team that the best player is an undersized 20-year-old defenceman? Regardless, the Senators will continue to rely heavily on him this season and beyond.

THE OPPONENT: The Senators might be catching a break here. Columbus is playing the second of back-to-back games, having won Thursday night on the road (3-2 over Toronto) before heading home. The last time the Senators faced a team in that position was Dec. 23 in Nashville, when they clipped the Predators 2-1. The Preds had played in Chicago the night before.

THE QUOTE: “It comes down to competing, winning those battles and making the right plays, the simple plays. Not trying to complicate things. If it’s a matter of icing the puck to get the puck down (the ice) on a penalty kill, if it’s a matter of making a simple tape-to-tape pass, if it’s a matter of (defensive) zone coverage where you contain your man, make the simple play. Both players’ confidence is very low.” — Coach Cory Clouston on his two struggling, veteran defencemen, Filip Kuba and Segei Gonchar.

THE SICK BAY: Senators — G Pascal Leclaire (lower body, mid-January), C Jason Spezza (shoulder, indefinite). Blue Jackets — No injuries.

THE PREDICTION: Pretty soon I’m going to adopt the Costanza method of making picks. I’ll look at the most logical option, then I’ll do the opposite. The way the Senators are playing right now, you never know which team is going to show up. Because they’re on the road in a Western Conference rink, I’ll take them to lose here. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if they won in a blowout either. Nothing surprises me with this team anymore. Senators 1, Jackets 4.

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