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Canadiens start Western swing in Edmonton

by Matthew Mankiewich /
CANADIENS (31-20-7) at OILERS (17-32-8)

TV -- RDS (HD), CBC (HD)

Last 10 -- Montreal 4-3-3, Edmonton 3-7-0

Season series -- It's the second and final game between these inter-conference and cross-country rivals. The Oilers are looking for a sweep after winning 4-3 in a shootout at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Dec. 1. It was the first time the visiting team won one of these matchups since Nov. 22, 2003, a six-game stretch.

Big story -- This western swing is about more than just the Heritage Classic for the Canadiens. They're dead-even with the Bruins atop the Northeast Division and have to face the red-hot Flames and League-leading Canucks before heading home, so a win against the young and struggling Oilers is a must. Fortunately, the Bruins follow right behind them out to Western Canada, so first place will go to the team that weathers the challenge best.

Team scope

Canadiens -- With two big games coming up, it can be all too easy to look beyond the game right in front of you. Not a good idea for a Montreal team that already has a loss against the Oilers -- and has dropped games to the Devils, Islanders and Sabres, all behind them in the Eastern Conference standings, in the last 10 days. Since the Bruins beat the Habs 8-6 in Boston last Wednesday, the Canadiens had at least one chance to jump past their historic rival but let it slip away to the Sabres by blowing a 2-0 lead in regulation and another in the shootout in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday.

"We really need to concentrate on getting some points on this road trip," goalie Carey Price said on the Canadiens' website. "The race is so tight right now and we're going to be up against teams that are playing really well right now."

Oilers -- The wake-up call came through loud and clear. After seven straight home losses and a pair of forgettable efforts over the weekend against the Senators and Ducks, general manager Steve Tambellini had a private meeting with the team on Monday. The result was a dominant 60-minute performance in a 4-1 win against the struggling Stars on Tuesday.

"It was a big game for us to come out in front of our fans and show them that there's a lot of fight in this team," said captain Shawn Horcoff, who had a goal and a pair of assists to break up a five-game points drought. "Obviously they weren't happy with the effort we put forth over the weekend and they shouldn't be. We were even more so not happy with it here. It was nice to turn it around."

Who's hot -- Max Pacioretty kept his five-game points streak going with a goal against Buffalo and has 12 points in his last 11. David Desharnais has a four-game streak going, and also won 12 of 16 faceoffs in Saturday's game against the Maple Leafs. Benoit Pouliot has a goal in each of his last three games. … Jordan Eberle scored the first goal for the Oilers Tuesday and has five points in his last five games. Taylor Chorney returned from a three-week stint in the minors to record a goal and an assist on only two shots. Nikolai Khabibulin snapped a personal 14-game losing streak with a 24-save performance.

Injury report -- With Jaroslav Spacek unable to make the trip with a lower-body injury, the Canadiens need all the help they can get at the blue line. That means rookie Brendon Nash stays with the team and Hal Gill's return to the lineup comes not a moment too soon. Out since the Boston game with an upper-body injury, the veteran defenseman will accompany the team and expects to be ready for the Heritage Classic at least. "I'm going to make the trip with the team and keep working and keep talking to the trainers to try to get back in as soon as I can," promised Gill on the Canadiens' site. Forward Mike Cammalleri, out the last 11 games with a separated shoulder, is close to a return as well. … Oilers forward Gilbert Brule has been out for more than a month with a bad ankle and a bout with the flu, but should be ready to go Thursday night.

Stat pack -- Of the three western Canadian teams, only the Oilers have won in the Bell Centre this season. The Habs shut out the Canucks 2-0 on Nov. 9 and beat the Flames 5-4 in overtime on Jan. 17. … The Oilers' two power-play goals Tuesday broke an 0-for-25 slump. … P.K. Subban and Alexandre Picard were the only two defensemen in the lineup for the Canadiens both Tuesday night and opening night. Gill, Spacek and Josh Gorges were out with injuries Tuesday and Ryan O'Byrne has been traded to Colorado.

Puck drop -- "The way Montreal comes at you, and they can in waves, they're quick and they counterattack with the best of them. We have to make sure they get very little to start with. The game will be five-minute increments, pretty much. They're a team that has traction, they lost a tough one (Tuesday) night when they looked awfully good in the first period and for whatever reason it didn't finish quite the way they wanted. This is a good team that knows how to string stretches of games together and be very, very good and of course they're going to want to right themselves through us." -- Oilers coach Tom Renney on what his team will be facing Thursday night

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