It's not been often the last decade or so that a team can claim to have less hope or direction than the Edmonton Oilers. But this afternoon, it looks like the Canadiens may be getting that rare opportunity.
The Oilers enter this game buoyed by the return of their young superstar, who punctuated his return from injury on Tuesday night with a couple of excellent plays. The Habs, meanwhile, have fermented for two more days, pondering another loss while giving up the idea that their goaltender's return would save their season.
The Canadiens' epic ascent, followed immediately by their stark and dismal failure, leaves them in a terrible position. According to Micah Blake McCurdy's projections over at HockeyViz, only the Senators and Devils were more likely find themselves without a playoff position or a top-five draft pick this season, as of Thursday morning.
For weeks, it has been clear that Montreal's current standing is untenable. Up or down, it's time they choose their path for the remainder of the season.
How to Watch
Start time: 2:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): RDS
In Canada (English): CBC, Sportsnet
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Tale of the Tape
|53.2||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||47.9|
|0.89||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.79|
Know Your Enemy
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The Edmonton Oilers know their path.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins injured, centres-of-the-future Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl will each log big minutes while playing in the top-six. Similarly, Oscar Klefbom's setback will leave a bigger left-side role for the likes of Darnell Nurse. It sounds odd to talk about showcasing young talent when the team's leadership core averages around 24-years-old, but with the Oilers trending toward another good draft pick, now is the time to find out what they have.
Speaking of what they have, Canadiens fans will certainly be interested in the performance of Edmonton's third line left winger. Zack Kassian, now just a failed experiment in Montreal, has taken well to his new role, picking up a couple of points and finding some chemistry with Nail Yakupov. His presence, combined with McDavid's return, gives the Oilers some offensive punch through their top-nine.
Considering what the Habs have produced offensively of late, there are likely few Canadiens' fans who wouldn't consider giving Kassian a try this afternoon.
Last Time Out
Even with another first overall pick in the fold, Edmonton's direction this season was fairly clear from the start of the season. Entering the most recent clash between these two teams, however, the 9-1-0 Canadiens must have been expecting that their next game wouldn't come on such uncertain terms. As it turned out, the outcome of the late October affair was symbolic of Montreal's overall performance.
The Habs stormed out to a 3-0 lead, getting first period goals from Torrey Mitchell, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk. The Canadiens held that lead through a quiet second period, relenting only when Draisatl got his team on the board with just under a minute to go in the frame. Things unravelled from there.
McDavid started a cycle that made its way to a trailing Brandon Davidson for a second Oiler goal. Shortly thereafter, McDavid sent Benoit Pouliot on a breakaway for the game-tyer, victimizing both P.K Subban and Andrei Markov to set-up the play.
Then, the final nail, which served to drive shut the Canadiens' proverbial coffin that night, as well as the analogy between the game and the current state of the Habs' season. With a minute to go, the game tied, and the Canadiens exploitative third line facing the Oilers' best trio, the puck was rolled into the Habs' zone. Desharnais skated back and retrieved it, only to have it hacked off of his stick by a forechecking RNH. Seconds later, the puck was out front with Draisatl, and a moment after that, it was behind a desperate Carey Price.
If the Canadiens wish to exercise some choice in the trajectory of their season, they're operating on razor-thin timeline. But when one considers games like the last one they played against the Oilers, it surely looks certain that there's only one way to go.