The Edmonton Oilers have been a pesky opponent for the recent Montreal Canadiens.
Last season, the Habs took a two to nothing lead, before proceeding to give up four consecutive goals for a frustrating loss. Earlier this year, in late October 2014, the Habs were again smothered, forced to fight back from another two goal deficit before succumbing to a Taylor Hall empty netter.
Tonight, working with home-ice advantage, the Habs should be highly motivated to get their two points. By beating Philadelphia on Tuesday, combined with Tampa Bay's loss to the Nashville Predators, the Canadiens are now a mere point back of the Lightning, with three games in hand to boot. A victory tonight would give the Habs a mantle they have long sought, but rarely claimed this year: first place in the Eastern Conference.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Oilers region: Sportsnet West
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|49.1||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||47.2|
|1.22||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.66|
Know Your Enemy
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Lucky as they may be to have the historic tanking of the Buffalo Sabres overshadowing their futility, the Edmonton Oilers remain one of the NHL's poorest clubs this season.
Their score-adjusted unblocked shot attempts are fourth-to-worst in the Western Conference, better than only the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and Arizona Coyotes. Their goal differential is similarly putrid, as the near-league-worst Oilers are giving more than a full goal per game compared to the Canadiens. To compound their problems, they'll without perhaps their most effective player this evening.
This will be the second game in a row that an injury will keep an opponent's star player from facing-off against the Habs. While Ray Emery did an admirable job of filling Steve Mason's skates, it is far less likely that the Oilers will find a Taylor Hall replacement lingering in the corridors of Rexall Place. The former first overall pick has a lower-body injury, depriving a talent-poor Edmonton team of their best scorer and best possession winger.
Coach Todd Nelson, who has replaced Dallas Eakins since these two teams last met, will also have find another player who can step up to draw penalties. With Hall on the sidelines, he will be unable to display his unique talents this evening.
Last Time Out
Attempts at humour aside, penalties were a problem for the Canadiens last time out. The Oilers enjoyed no fewer than six powerplays, and while they weren't able to beat Dustin Tokarski with the man advantage, they did generate a third of their total shot output with a Canadien in the penalty box. Montreal did a wonderful job of stifling the Oilers, as evidenced by the 13 even strength shots they allowed, and the Habs' penalty kill is strong, but a lack of discipline is exactly the kind of flaw that could put the Canadiens out of a game they have no business losing.
Not unlike the Buffalo game of last week, the Habs overpowered the Oilers when they last met. A lack of firepower came at an inopportune time, however, as the Canadiens couldn't crack Ben Scrivens. The only exception was when Manny Malholtra and Travis Moen were on the ice, as they failed to contain the secondary scoring trio led by Leon Draisatl. For various reasons, none of those three players will participate this evening, with Moen traded, Draistal honing his craft in the WHL, and Malholtra in the press box. This paradigm shift should work in the Habs' favour, as the young, fast, and hungry fourth line of today has proven more than capable of handling their bottom six counterparts of late.
That fourth line likely won't get a chance to break a Scrivens shutout this evening, as Viktor Fasth looks set to start. The 32-year-old Swede has started four of Edmonton's last five contests, but has earned only a single win. As one might expect of a keeper drowning in a sea of scoring chances on a nightly basis, Fasth's even strength save percentage is in the NHL's basement, even below the dubious mark of Coyotes goalie Mike Smith.
As was the case in October, Tokarski will get the start again this evening, giving Carey Price a well deserved break. Coming off a dominant stretch in which he allowed only four goals in three games, Price has set the bar impossibly high for the back-up backstop. If Tokarski can maintain the respectable, near average save percentage he has posted to this point, however, his performance should be more than good enough to get the Habs their win.