Not long ago, the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers were the trendy picks to take that next step as an elite club. That's clearly not happening this season.
Two teams on the fringes of competing for a playoff spot square off for the first time this season when the Oilers play host to the Panthers on Monday night.
Edmonton (23-27-4) returns to Rogers Place after losing all three games on its California road trip and before going on another three-game swing. The club erased a 3-0 deficit with four straight goals but lost 6-4 to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
"We have a lot to work on as a team. Special teams, defensive, offensive. We have to work on our whole game," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said.
With 28 games to play in the regular season, it may be too late. The Oilers came within a game of the conference final last season, but have already surpassed their loss total from 2016-17 and are 13th in the West -- 16 points out of the final playoff spot.
"We're going to play hockey," said Edmonton winger Zack Kassian, who had his first two-goal game in nearly three years on Saturday. "We're not going to give up, but at the same time, you claw back. We're just not happy clawing back."
Kassian has two goals in three career games against the Panthers, tying him with Mark Letestu for the most among current Oilers.
Connor McDavid has a team-best four points (goal, three assists) against the Panthers. Last season's MVP has six goals and two assists in a three-game points streak at home, and is among the league's scoring leaders with 64 points (22 goals, 32 assists).
Edmonton has won three straight from Florida, and will likely be looking to goaltender Cam Talbot to extend that streak.
Talbot, who sat out Saturday while Al Montoya stopped 24 of 29 shots, would be going for his fourth consecutive win over the Panthers. Talbot is 4-1-0 with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in his career against Florida.
He also needs one win to reach 20 for the fourth straight season.
Florida (23-23-6) is 13th in the Eastern Conference and nine points in back of the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff berth with 30 games to go. The Panthers are 10-14-3 on the road heading into the start of a five-game road trip across Canada.
Florida's four-game winning streak was snapped with a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. Aaron Ekblad opened the scoring with a power-play goal for the Panthers.
"We won four of the last five, so I think we're heading in the right direction. We just can't have these slip-ups," Panthers forward Vincent Trochek told the league's official website. "Great teams don't slip up, they play consistently, and that's what we need to do right now."
Trochek is tied with Aleksandr Barkov for the team lead with nine road goals. Trochek also has 23 points away from south Florida -- one more than Barkov, but one behind Jonathan Huberdeau.
Florida is dealing with groin injuries to goaltenders Roberto Luongo and James Reimer. Luongo has been out since Dec. 4, but recently resumed skating with the team. Reimer has been sidelined since Jan. 23 and could make his return during the trip.
The Panthers have been going with rookie Harri Sateri. The native of Finland is 4-4-0 with a 2.92 GAA and a .911 save percentage in nine games, including seven starts.
Edmonton is 5-6-0 against the Atlantic Division, and Florida has the same record against the Pacific.