Canadiens at Oilers - Game Preview

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is among the up-and-comers that Montreal will try to slow down tonight. - Derek Leung

One night after an underwhelming performance against one of the NHL's underdogs, the Habs head North to take on another underwhelming Western squad.

During the second intermission of last night's game, Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban commented that the Canadiens had practiced poorly on Tuesday, and that it had translated to the Habs sloppy play through forty minutes at the Saddledome.

Extending Subban's concept, it would figure that perhaps a particularly strong third period the day prior to a game would lead to inspired play during said game. If that's the case, the Edmonton Oilers have a tough assignment on their schedule this evening.

The Habs, for the third time in three game, held an impressive possession advantage throughout the game, but were unable to translate their shots into dangerous scoring chances or sustained pressure. The game began to go South, as the the Flames staked themselves to a three-goal second period lead. The Canadiens began to climb back, building up their intensity as the game progressed and making things interested until a Subban penalty with less than two minutes on the clock. Nonetheless, the Habs will look to maintain their momentum, pushing onward to the league's northernmost destination.

Peter Budaj will make his first start of the season, and will look to make his mark against his former division rival. Mostly as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, Budaj has made 22 career starts against the Oilers, earning 14 wins despite a save percentage of only .886. Despite playing against the Oilers more than any other NHL opponent, Saint Peter has never earned a shutout against the Edmonton. He'll aim to rectify that this evening.

If Budaj is to achieve that lofty goal, he'll have to find a way to stymie some of of the NHL's premiere young offensive talents. Edmonton faces the man who is arguably the league's best left winger, and almost certainly among those who are not named Alex Ovechkin. After being deployed at centre with an aging Ryan Smyth, Hall has been returned to his traditional position alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. The Nuge was not ready to begin the season due to an injury, but made his debut in the Oilers' Monday game against the Devils. His return is crucial to Edmonton's forward depth, as his number one position pushes other players down a centre lineup that looked barren in the absence of Sam Gagner. Gagner, of course, will not play in tonight's affair - he's still suffering from a broken jaw resultant of a wild preseason slash from Zack Kassian.

Even with a young and impressive top-six, the Oilers bottom-six forwards and their defenders leave something to be desired. Considering Montreal's depth, and their relatively clean injury slate, they should be able ice at least one line at all times that boasts a significant talent advantage of their counterparts. As was the case last night, these are two points that Montreal can get, and should get.

Montreal's sole injury concern is the status of Josh Gorges, who saw about half a shift worth of ice in the third period of Wednesday's loss. The nature of the injury is uncertain, so it looks like Gorges will be a game-time decision. Should he be unable to go, look for Nathan Beaulieu to take his place in his first game of 2013-14.

Following in the footsteps of the Habs adversary from last night, Joey MacDonald, will be Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk has started in two games so far this year, and was lit up both times for five goals against per game. Dubnyk has had some difficulty against Montreal in his career as well, allowing seven goals in two games with a .892 save percentage. The Habs will certainly hope Dubnyk's string of poor fortune early on continues this evening.

For the inside scoop on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shoulder injury, recognition of the yeoman's work Lladislav Smid has done with the poor and needy of the NHL, and above all, the consistent goodness of one of the best hockey blogs going, point your internet browser to the Copper & Blue.


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