The Oilers' six-game road swing rolls along with a stop in Montreal as the trip reaches its midway point. The orange and blue took to the ice at 11am this morning at the Bell Centre, with some new (old) faces re-entering the fold.
, who passed Head Coach Tom Renney's evaluation at yesterday's practice, will get back into the lineup tonight alongside Shawn Horcoff
and Ryan Smyth
. Cam Barker
will also be re-inserted, taking call-up Colten Teubert
's place on the Oilers' in-and-out blueline.
Having registered a mere assist in 13 games this season (despite peppering opposition netminders with 26 shots), Magnus Paajarvi
will be the odd-man out as the Oilers go head-to-head with the Habs.
The team's top and fourth lines will remain the same, but some re-jigging has been done to accommodate the moves.
View Line Combinations
"Hemmer will play tonight," remarked Renney in his post-practice media scrum. "He's been cleared to go; he's been skating for a couple weeks now and we brought physical contact into his repertoire, did some skating tests with him yesterday and he's good to go.
"What he brings to our team is experience, production, good leadership and a guy that's real passionate this year to play."
Hemsky, who's been missing in action since Oct. 13 when we re-injured his shoulder in Minnesota, is eager to get back in. Doing so against a buddy, Montreal's Tomas Plekanec, should provide some extra motivation.
"I'm feeling good, excited," he said. "It's been a little while. It's been 11 games or something like that. The shoulder is feeling great, so I'm pretty excited and happy to be back in the lineup."
The 28-year-old winger recorded one assist in two games vs. Pittsburgh and Minnesota.
"I'll try to play my game," he said. "I don't want to change anything. I'll play with Smytty and Horc and it will help me to get back into it. It will be easier to get back with them than with something else.
"Even in practice now, I feel pretty much the same; strong and the shoulder feels good. Some things are better than they were before. I wasn't targeting to play here in Montreal, but it's been three to four weeks, and that's where we're at. It worked out pretty well."
IT FEELS SO GOOD
Reunited. Hemsky has missed all but two games this season, but the team's second line has made do in his absence. Ryan Jones
filled in admirably, producing two goals and three assists alongside No. 10 and 94.
But now, 2006's magic line is back together once more, looking to provide some much needed secondary scoring vs. Montreal. Both teams are coming into tonight's contest riding high and sporting identical 4-1 records in their last five games.
"It's going to be a tough battle," said Ryan Smyth
, who's scored seven goals and 15 points in 23 career games against the Canadiens. "The two teams are playing really well and it's just a matter of the will. We've some youth, some energy and excitement so hopefully we can bring that.
"It's going to be a lot of fun with the explosiveness on both teams. We need to limit turnovers, limit the transition game and play simple road-hockey. Play simple, play hard and play 60 minutes. When you play a full 60, you give your team a chance to win on a nightly basis."
Smyth is tied with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
for the team's scoring lead with six goals and 12 points in 13 games. Hot on his heels is the Oilers' captain, No. 10, who's had a stellar start as well. Although he's posted seven points in 13 games, his value has been rattling a 52.5-percent success rate in the circle.
He, too, is pumped for tonight's matchup.
"It's always real fun to play in Montreal," Horcoff said. "There's a lot of tradition and history in this building, so it's always fun coming here. The fans are great and the atmosphere is incredible.
"[Montreal is] a team that really skates, and so are we, so we're looking forward to an exciting game.
"We need to play our game," he added. "Just like every other team, not making turnovers in the wrong areas, really being good in the neutral zone and trying to limit easy chances for the other team. For us tonight, we're not really focused on what other teams do, we're more concerned about what we need to do; and we know when we do that and we're successful at it, we'll give ourselves a good chance to win."
QUELLING THE NERVES
In a building that seats 21,273 boisterous fans, nerves are bound to arise; especially for those that haven't experienced the ride in a prior encounter. Jordan Eberle
has, playing in last year's Dec. 1 contest at the Bell Centre.
"It's one of the better barns to play in," he said. "These guys are intense and passionate about hockey. It's always loud. The fans are going to be into it and I know the players are, too."
"Maybe, but I always remember being excited," the captain added. "The energy is something you don't get in every rink, so we're going to go in there, have fun and take the crowd out of it as soon as we can."
gets the start in goal as the Oilers look to get back on the winning track and improve to 9-3-2 on the season.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
This is the first of two meetings this season between the two Canadian franchises. The Oilers won both matchups between the teams last season, including a 4-3 victory on Dec. 1, 2010, in which Dustin Penner scored the overtime winner.
While the Canadiens have overcome a rough start, the young Oilers remain one of the top stories of the young NHL season. Saturday night saw both teams' lengthy win streaks end with hard-fought losses. Edmonton's six-game run ended with a 4-2 loss in Phoenix while the Canadiens' four-game streak was snapped by a 5-3 loss in New York against the Rangers.
After finishing 30th overall the past two seasons, few people expected the Oil to stand atop the Northwest Division a month into the 2011-12 season. That first-place record is due mostly to the recent six-game win streak, the team's longest since 2002.
While the streak is striking for a team that won 25 games all last season, the most impressive number might be the six goals the Oilers allowed in that stretch, which included shutout victories over the Rangers and Kings. Playing their second match in a six-game road swing, the Oilers came into Phoenix on Saturday, where goals from Daymond Langkow and Adrian Aucoin spotted the Coyotes a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes. The Oilers would cut the Phoenix lead in the third period to 2-1 and 3-2, but Ray Whitney's empty-netter would end the Oilers' winning run.
"I didn't think we were competitive enough to start the game," coach Tom Renney said. "We really had to muster everything to get ourselves back in the game."
After stumbling out of to a 1-5-2 start, the franchise's worst in 70 years, the Canadiens managed to get back to the .500 mark thanks to a four-game win streak. Looking to earn a winning record for the first time this season, the Canadiens came to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, only to give the Rangers nine separate power plays, allowing one goal on a two-man advantage.
After trailing 3-0 through 20 minutes, the Canadiens cut the Rangers lead to 3-2 and then 4-3 before Ryan Callahan scored into an empty net to end the Habs' win streak. But the real turning point came after the Canadiens cut the Rangers' lead to 3-2 with consecutive goals in the second period. With 1:10 remaining in the third, Brad Richards snapped a wrist shot past Carey Price, who was starting for the second time in 24 hours and appeared to be screened on the play.
"That goal was probably the key goal, because I thought we were back in the hockey game," coach Jacques Martin said. "I thought we had a strong second period, with a goal at the beginning of the period that gave us momentum. There was a mistake in the neutral zone. That cost us."
Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
continues to pace the Oilers attack, with 4 points in his last five games. Ryan Smyth
has 7 points in his current four-game point streak. … For the Canadiens, Andrei Kostitsyn has a point in each of his last three games and Tomas Plekanec has 7 points in his last five games.
The Oilers' defense could be depleted in Montreal, as Ryan Whitney
(knee) and Cam Barker
(shoulder) could both be out, while forwards Ales Hemsky
(shoulder) and Darcy Hordichuk
(knee) are on IR. … For the Canadiens, Andrei Markov (knee), Ryan White (hernia surgery), and Chris Campoli (leg) are on IR while Scott Gomez remains out with an upper-body injury.
Nugent-Hopkins' 12 points in 13 games have him tied for the team lead with Smyth. If he can stay healthy and maintain that scoring pace, the League's leading rookie scorer should have no trouble making the NHL All-Rookie Team, which would make him the first Oilers forward to make the team and the first Edmonton player since Tom Gilbert
While they're ranked 17th in offense, the Canadiens have managed to get balanced scoring this season. Through 13 games, they have seven players with at least 3 goals. Only four teams -- Philadelphia, Washington, Vancouver, and Chicago -- have more.