Edmonton, AB - Following a 28-save outing on Tuesday in San Jose, Devan Dubnyk will be back on the bench tonight, serving as Nikolai Khabibulin's backup as the Oilers search for the season-series sweep vs. Montreal.
In other lineup news, Ben Eager was absent at the team's morning skate as he's been struck with an illness. As such, Darcy Hordichuk will be slotted back in on the fourth line, while Linus Omark is expected to given a promotion.
How much ice time they'll get will be contingent on what's worth a call. Only two power-plays were awarded to the orange and blue on the club's recent road swing; one of which was cashed on, while the other was an abbreviated, 56-second advantage.
Jordan Eberle got the lone PP marker in Anaheim, and he added an even-strength goal 10 seconds into Tuesday's 3-2 shootout win over San Jose, his 30th of the 2011-12 season. The marker was the second-quickest in Oilers history, as Wayne Gretzky tallied one eight seconds into a game against the New York Rangers on Dec. 14, 1983.
While Head Coach Tom Renney admits he's seeing penalties go uncalled, without being too critical of their work, he believes it's a simple blip in the NHL's standards.
"You reward teams that work hard and draw those penalties," he said. "We have a pretty good power-play. I'd like to see it on the ice more, because we might even have a couple more wins at this stage in the season had that been the case.
"That said, I watched the games last night and there seemed to be a couple more power-plays, so I don't know. It's throwing darts, I guess."
30 FOR 14
Eberle, meanwhile, isn't too concerned. Opportunities would be nice, but No. 14 is simply living in the moment, basking in his 30-goal glow. It's come as a surprise, to some extent.
"I've never been a guy who goes into a season saying I'm going to score 30 goals and 30 assists," he laughed. "I've always been a guy that tries to take it game-by-game, going back to being consistent. You play every night the way you can and the sky's the limit. When you're on a roll, you've got to continue it.
"I don't want to get complacent. If you're happy with 30, that's the bar. I want to play well tonight and score tonight, and play well the next game and score the next game, too. Going into every game, I want to score. If I score, it gives our team a chance to win. If I can do that, that's what I'm here to do."
"30's pretty nice, there's no question about that," Renney added, noting his sophomore's impressive accomplishment. "I thought he would be able to score, as other people did, to what degree we weren't really sure. We thought it would be contingent on the guys he might be playing with and our team game, too. 30 maybe could have been a stretch in September, but as you've seen this season develop for him, maybe one day down the road he's a Rocket Richard kind of guy."
While the Oilers and Canadiens represent the league's near-the-basement dwelling representation, the game promises to be a memorable one. Recent success against Montreal has been guaranteed at Rexall Place, with the home side not having lost since Nov. 29, 2000 (3-2).
The Canadiens did skate away with a 4-3 win on Nov. 22, 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium during the historic Heritage Classic, however.
The rivalry will be renewed this evening and, while it's been pitted as a battle for 28th, the bench boss is extra motivated to have a strong showing. It's especially important, too, when you consider that the building will be packed with vocal critics dressed in red, white and (a lighter) blue.
"I want to come out hard here," he said. "These are great games. These are Original 6 teams. You play everybody hard, obviously, but the environment should be great tonight. That's what we want to see here. Let's not watch the movie; let's get in it.
"I don't see a team compromising on their work habits in Montreal, and I don't believe we have either. What we have to do is make sure we contribute to our end of the bargain as a competitive hockey team tonight.
"There's a professional pride involved with both clubs here."
Season Series: This is the second and final meeting this season between the two Canadian franchises. They last played Nov. 8 in Montreal, where Ryan Jones started the scoring and Ryan Smyth closed the game out with an empty-net goal. In the end, Montreal lost 3-1 despite outshooting the Oilers 29-14.
Big Story: There is very little subtext to this matchup between these historic Canadian franchises. Both teams are effectively playing for next season and are firmly placed at the bottom of their respective divisions. Montreal has lost nine of its last 11 and Edmonton has dropped three of its last four, meaning both teams will be motivated primarily by pride.
Canadiens: Having dropped seven of their last eight, the last month has been a tough one for les Habitants. After going 0-3-0 on a difficult southeastern road swing to close out February, Montreal split two home games against Minnesota and Toronto before embarking on their annual Western Canadian road trip, which started Tuesday night in Calgary.
Against the Flames, Montreal found itself playing from behind as Calgary got first-period goals from David Moss and Jarome Iginla. Montreal would fight back, ultimately tying the game 2-2 in the second period before allowing three unanswered goals from Calgary, including a second from Iginla. Trailing 5-2 in the third period, the Habs refused to roll over, getting goals from Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty, his second of the game. Montreal would come on late, outshooting the Flames 10-6 in the final period but getting no closer than 5-4.
"It was a game in which we did a lot of good things and a lot of bad things at the same time," Eller said. "When you score four goals and when you throw pucks at the net and you do that stuff, we get the results. At the same time, we did a lot of things that weren't good enough in our own end that gave it away."
Oilers: After winning three of four late last month, including a resounding 6-1 win over provincial rival Calgary on Feb. 21, the Oilers showed flashes of the talented, young team some people were touting entering the season. But Edmonton fell back to earth quickly, losing three straight before closing out a modest two-game California trip Tuesday night in San Jose.
Against the Sharks, Jordan Eberle needed just 10 seconds to open the scoring with his team-leading 30th goal of the season. But this wouldn't be a cakewalk against the four-time defending Pacific Division champs. Barely three minutes after Eberle's tally, Jim Vandermeer notched his first of the season, tying the game. Ryane Clowe and Ryan Smyth traded second-period goals and the third period would solve nothing despite San Jose holding a 12-6 shot advantage. The game would go to a shootout, where Sam Gagner provided the only scoring and Devan Dubnyk was perfect, giving the Oilers a 3-2 win.
Who's Hot: Pacioretty has been scorching of late for the Habs, notching 3 goals and 5 points on his current three-game point streak. David Desharnais has seven points in his last five games. … For the Oilers, Eberle has goals in five of his last eight games.
Injury Report: Montreal's Andrei Markov has been cleared for contact, but he remains on IR alongside Mike Blunden (knee surgery), Brian Gionta (bicep surgery), Mathieu Darche (upper body), and Travis Moen (upper body). Scott Gomez, Raphael Diaz, and Aaron Palushaj are also all likely out with various ailments. … The Oilers are icing a healthy lineup.
Stat Pack: The annual trip to Western Canada has not been a pleasant one for the Canadiens in recent years. In the previous three seasons, they've gone a combined 1-8-0 on the road against Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver -- including 0-3-0 in Edmonton, while being outscored 14-5.
Puck Drop: Despite their losing records, both Montreal and Edmonton feature talented young scorers on their roster. If the 21-year-old Eberle can exceed the 32-goal mark, it will be the highest total for an Oiler since Smyth had 36 in 2005-06. Meanwhile, Pacioretty's pair Tuesday night gave him 28 goals for the season. Two more and the 23-year-old will be Montreal's first 30-goal scorer since Alex Kovalev had 35 in 2007-08.