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AT THE MORNING SKATE
With the Canadiens skating at their practice rink in the suburbs, the Oilers were able to take to the ice an hour early at Bell Centre in downtown Montreal.
For the sixth consecutive day, Ales Hemsky skated with the team, but for the first time since last Tuesday, he was incorporated into the top four forward lines (skating with Paajarvi & Gagner), signalling his return to the line-up.
"The goal was to go for the morning skate, try again, and see how it is. It's feeling way better and I'll try to give it a go," Hemsky said after the skate.
Oilers head coach Tom Renney is pleased about Hemsky's return but hasn't been rushing his recovery from a groin injury.
"He felt he might have been able to go in Ottawa, he still had some pain there and discomfort, and an executive decision suggested otherwise," Renney explained. "But full go now and we're looking forward to having him in the line-up.
"We need that experience on the ice obviously, and we're expecting that he'll make a contribution before it's all said and done, but we'll also manage his ice time appropriately coming off a bit of a tweak there."
GERBER RETURNS TO OKC
Another change to the Oilers line-up will be the absence of Martin Gerber. The 36-year-old goaltender was recalled Nov. 18 to fill in for injured Nikolai Khabibulin, but with Khabibulin's impending return between the pipes, Gerber was assigned to the Oilers' AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City early Wednesday afternoon.
With wins in both of his appearances, Gerber was solid in his brief call-up.
"The first game, I thought he was sort of seeing that NHL shot again for the first time and had a tendency to just knock things down, and as that game went on, he collected pucks better, melted to the ice well, not a lot of second shots. And then in Ottawa, I thought he was very good. I thought he was good from start to finish," Renney recalled.
"It's too bad that this is how the game works. When a guy comes off IR, that's just the way it is. I thought he performed real well for us."
Captain Shawn Horcoff acknowledged Gerber's contributions both on the ice and off.
"He's fun to have in the locker room, he worked extremely hard for us, and he did well," Horcoff said. "It brings a level of confidence knowing that if something were to happen, he can play well for us."
As for Khabibulin, he will back up Devan Dubnyk tonight vs. the Habs.
"He feels good now obviously or else we wouldn't have done what we had done (assigned Gerber)," Renney explained. "He could have gone today. I would expect he would go tomorrow unless Devan does some extraordinary stuff and then I wouldn't have a problem going back-to-back."
First thing's first, however: Oilers vs. Canadiens.
"This is going to be exciting," Renney said. "We all understand how Montreal usually comes out in their building, and so our objective is to make sure the first 10 minutes are efficient by us, make sense, and has a level of intelligence to it, but also that we're connected to the game physically."
Veteran Shawn Horcoff is looking forward to the game.
"For me personally, and I'm sure a lot of guys, it's probably one of the best rinks to play in on the road in the league. They've got great fans, they're really steep, so the fans they all feel like they're right on top of you, 20,000 plus. It's always really fun to play here."
As for the Oilers rookies, Renney is confident they won't be fazed by the imposing Bell Centre environment.
"I know they are excited and that's where we want them to stay, is excited about being here and certainly not overwhelmed by the prospect of playing here at all," he said. "For how they've been able to handle the season so far, I'm not going to suggest this is just another game, but I think they're going to do fine."
-- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10: Montreal 7-3-0; Edmonton 3-5-2
Season series: First of two meetings on the 2010-11 schedule, with Montreal traveling to Edmonton for a Feb. 17 game. Both of last season's matchups were won by the home team and decided by a single goal, with Nikolai Khabibulin stopping 33 shots as the Oilers won 3-2 on Oct. 10, 2009, and Andrei Kostitsyn scoring in the fifth round of a shootout to give the Canadiens a 5-4 victory on March 11, 2010.
Big story: Martin Gerber is back in the NHL and making the most of his opportunity in Edmonton. Gerber, who has played on three teams that went to the Stanley Cup Final (Anaheim in 2003, Carolina in 2006 and Ottawa in 2007), started the season in the AHL and was recalled after Khabibulin injured his groin. He helped the Oilers edge the Avalanche in his debut with the team last week, then stopped 22 of 23 shots against one of his former clubs in a win Monday over the Senators. Gerber is 2-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
Oilers: One critical save by Gerber and a subsequent Edmonton goal opened the floodgates and led to a 4-1 win Monday. With the Oilers trailing 1-0 late in the second period, Gerber stopped Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson on a shorthanded breakaway. Tom Gilbert then scored a power-play goal with 1:21 left in the second, and the Oilers erupted for three more in the third, with Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule and Taylor Hall lighting the lamp.
"It's definitely nice to have this one," said Gerber, who backed up Ray Emery during the Senators' march to the 2007 Final and played 57 games for the team the following season. "It's always emotional to play somewhere you've been around for a while and it was really great to see the guys out there compete and, for most of the game, we had a good game."
Canadiens: It's been two weeks since Montreal has been able to string consecutive wins together, which they'll have a chance to do Wednesday. The Canadiens had a four-game winning streak in mid-November and have alternated losses and wins over the last six games. Their new captain, Brian Gionta, stood front and center in Saturday's 3-1 win over the Sabres. He assisted on Kostitsyn's power-play goal to open the scoring and added two tallies of his own.
"We played pretty hard tonight," said Carey Price, who stopped 34 shots. "We all wanted to bounce back from (Friday) night's game (a 3-0 loss in Atlanta) and I thought everybody came out with the right mentality and played hard the whole game."
Who's hot: Cogliano, Brule and Hall all have goals in each of the Oilers' past two victories. … Kostitsyn has goals and multi-point efforts in each of the Canadiens' past two victories. Price has won three of his last four starts, allowing one goal or less each time.
Injury report: Khabibulin is on injured reserve for Edmonton and forward Ales Hemsky, who also has a groin injury, is day-to-day. … Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov injured his knee and is out indefinitely.
Stat pack: The Oilers have two of the top-five rookie scoring leaders, with Jordan Eberle (4-11-15) second and Hall (6-6-12) tied for fifth. … Special teams have contributed heavily to the Canadiens winning six of their last seven at the Bell Centre. Their power play has gone 9-for-31 and they've killed off 27 of the 29 shorthanded situations they've faced.
Puck drop: For each team, this begins a stretch of three games in four nights. Edmonton travels to Toronto for a game Thursday before returning home to face St. Louis on Saturday, while Montreal heads on the road and plays in New Jersey on Thursday before coming back home for a Saturday game against San Jose.
-- Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer