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GAME: Montreal Canadiens (16-8-5) at Edmonton Oilers (16-11-4).

TIME: Thursday, 9 p.m. EST.

The Montreal Canadiens might have right wing Alexei Kovalev back in the lineup when they meet the Edmonton Oilers in the only regular-season meeting between the teams.

Kovalev was placed on the injured reserve list Nov. 14, and underwent knee surgery the next day to remove fluid from his right knee. He was expected to miss up to eight weeks.

Kovalev said he had been playing with pain since the start of the season.

"It was just getting worse and worse and we tried to avoid this kind of thing by doing different therapy and it looks like that just didn't work," he said before undergoing the procedure in Pittsburgh. "I decided I'd rather just get on with the surgery and not worry about it afterwards."

Despite missing 10 games, Kovalev is still tied for third on the team in assists (12) with Andrei Markov, and is fourth in points (19).

He has four goals and nine assists in 15 career games against Edmonton.

Montreal is not expected to have leading scorer Saku Koivu in the lineup for a fifth straight game due to a groin injury. Radek Bonk is also out indefinitely with a torn groin.

Edmonton returns home trying to snap a streak of four straight one-goal decisions. The Oilers have gone 1-3-0 in their last four games with all the losses coming via overtime or shootout.

Defenseman Cory Cross scored the lone goal in Edmonton's 2-1 shootout loss Wednesday to the New Jersey Devils.

Goaltender Ty Conklin made 27 saves in his first appearance since Oct. 21. Conklin was placed on injured reserve Nov. 4 with a groin strain.

"Ty was exceptional," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "He made some great saves with his glove."

Left wing Ethan Moreau has two goals and three assists during a four-game points streak. Both goals were short-handed and came in the Oilers' 3-2 win Dec. 8 over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Moreau needs two assists for 100 in his career.

Edmonton has won five of the last seven meetings with Montreal.

STANDINGS: Canadiens - 37 points, 3rd place, 9 PB, Northeast Division. Oilers - 36 points, 3rd place, 4 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Michael Ryder, 13 goals; Koivu, 18 assists and 26 points; Steve Begin, 57 PIM. Oilers - Ryan Smyth, 13 goals; Shawn Horcoff, 23 assists; Jarret Stoll and Horcoff, 27 points; Moreau, 49 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 14): Canadiens - Power play: 19.2 percent (35 for 182), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.3 percent (153 for 188), 22nd. Oilers - Power play: 16.9 percent (31 for 183), 16th. Penalty killing: 82.5 percent (156 for 189), 16th.

GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Jose Theodore (13-6-5, 0 SO, 3.02 GAA); Cristobal Huet (no appearances). Oilers - Jussi Markkanen (10-9-3, 0, 3.03); Conklin (1-1-1, 0, 3.41).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 22, 2003; Canadiens, 4-3. At Edmonton, Alberta, in an outdoor game at Commonwealth Stadium before 57,167, Richard Zednik had two goals, including the eventual game-winner, for the Canadiens. Steve Staios had a goal and an assist for the Oilers.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canadiens - 6-3-3 on the road; Oilers - 6-4-2 at home.

Associated Press
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