OILERS (8-3-2) at CANADIENS (5-6-2)
TV: RDS (HD), SNET-W (HD), TSN-HABS (HD)
Edmonton 7-2-1; Montreal 4-4-2
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.