Through eight games, the Montreal Canadiens are the proud owners of the best record in the NHL.
They've vanquished two of the East's best, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. When they get around to playing the Lightning (I don't recall any previous matchup), they'll probably play them well too. The Habs have been as strong and consistent as a team can be, and have even shown a little persistence with in come-back victories. Now, the Habs head west, looking to maintain their hot start through what should be four winnable games.
How to watch
Time: 9:30pm EST
In the Habs' region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Habs' region (French): RDS
In the Oilers' region: Sportsnet West
Elsewhere: NHL Gamecenter Live or NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
Know Your Enemy
First stop, Edmonton.
For what feels like forever, the Oilers have been a lottery team. Their high first round picks never fail to yield talent, but the rest of lineup has never been properly constructed. With their efforts this summer, the Oilers have sought to address that.
They made a splash on free agent frenzy, spending on quality support players in Benoit Pouliot and Mark Fayne. They unburdened themselves of Nick Schultz. Gone too are Anton Belov, and Ladislav Smid. In their place, Martin Marincin and Nikita Nikitin are now regulars on the back-end.
The change in personnel has created three pairs, each with a distinct role. Justin Schultz and Nikitin are sheltered, taking soft minutes and managing strong possession numbers. Jeff Petry and Andrew Ference take the middle-ground, less sheltered but still above water. The tough minutes pair is Marincin and Fayne, who have been thrown to the wolves and have the numbers to show for it. Collectively, this is a better group than in years past, and part of the reason that the Oilers are up about 5% on team possession.
Up front, the team has created distinct roles as well. Jesse Joensuu, Boyd, Gordon, and Matt Hendricks have done a respectable job in defensive zone starts against secondary toughs. The top line, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and Taylor Hall, have been excellent playing power on power. That leaves two middle lines, centred by Leon Draisatl and Mark Arcobello, to generate offence against the Oilers' opponents depth. As Jonathan Willis writes over at Cult of Hockey, this hasn't worked out just yet.
So, while the Oilers shutdown pair isn't exactly shutting anyone down yet, and the middle six is still maturing, neither of those are likely to be Dallas Eakins' foremost concern this evening. Starting goaltender Ben Scrivens had a miserable start to the year, and while he has stabilized somewhat since then, a team like Edmonton needs a quality back-stop to mitigate the effects of the errors that are certain to happen in front of him.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens suffered a frustrating loss last time out, going up 2-0 before giving up four consecutive goals. Without Max Pacioretty, and in full-blown dump and chase mode, the Habs struggled to enter the Oilers' zone, even against their tattered defensive group. With the team at full strength and demonstrating a propensity to carry the puck and make plays, things should be different tonight.
A team can't win forever, and for the Canadiens, 2014-15 has started better than they could have expected. A good team wins the games their supposed to, however, and for Montreal, this one falls firmly into that category.