OILERS (15-31-9) at CANADIENS (35-15-3)
TV: SNW, SNE, RDS
MONTREAL -- Edmonton Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle will be challenged to produce on offense when he faces Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban at Bell Centre on Thursday.
Eberle and Subban were teammates when Canada won a gold medal at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ottawa.
"He's obviously one of the elite defensemen in the NHL," Eberle said after Edmonton's morning skate. "Usually as an offensive guy you play against the team's best defenders, but for him, he can defend and the big thing you've got to watch for is he's jumping in the rush a lot.
"So you always have to be watching your back and if he's coming in behind you, or whatever, so the biggest thing for him is offensively he can be a threat too and you're not usually used to that. As an offensive guy you usually get their defensive player."
The Oilers are last in the Western Conference with 39 points, four ahead of the Buffalo Sabres for the worst record in the League. They are 2-4-0 so far in a stretch that sees them play eight of nine games on the road and have lost two of three on a six-game trip, their longest of the season.
Edmonton has won five of its past 10 after following up a 2-1 win at the New Jersey Devils on Monday with a 3-2 loss at the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
"I think our compete in battle is a lot better right now," Oilers interim coach Todd Nelson said. "We're winning battles, we're having more offensive zone time, creating more chances so that's what we have to focus on moving forward. There were games in the past where we didn't have a lot of offensive zone time and we were chasing the puck all game, but last game I thought we did a great job in the offensive zone, hanging onto the puck, finding guys, and now it comes down to finishing our chances."
Montreal, which is on an 8-2-0 run, has won three in a row since losing at home to the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo. The Canadiens went 1-1-2 against the Sabres and forward Brandon Prust is wary of struggling against the Oilers, who won 3-0 at Rexall Place on Oct. 27.
"Sometimes you can do that but every team in this League is good and they're going to be coming out and competing," Prust said. "We lost a couple last week, maybe took our foot off the gas a little bit, and you know, I thought we did some good things in those games but we didn't get the breaks. We've got to create our own bounces [Thursday]."
Montreal rookie Jacob De La Rose will once again center a line with Michael Bournival and Christian Thomas.
"We're three young guys and we play with a lot of energy," Thomas said. "We know we have a lot of speed so our number one thing is to try to keep them in their zone the whole time, and I thought we did a good job. We had a lot of chances and it's only a matter of time until we score a goal."
De La Rose, 19, earned a shift in overtime with Dale Weise on Tuesday, and made a defensive play to deny a scoring chance by Vincent Lecavalier that helped the Canadiens secure a 2-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Everybody gave him a pat coming back to the bench there," Prust said. "He saved a goal and created our goal so he's done a good job. He's a mature kid; he definitely doesn't act his age. That's going to be big for us if he can get some confidence and keep going for us."
Here are the projected lineups:
Teddy Purcell – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
Ryan Hamilton – Derek Roy – Nail Yakupov
Matt Hendricks – Boyd Gordon – Rob Klinkhammer
Luke Gazdic – Anton Lander – Iiro Pakarinen
Andrew Ference – Jeff Petry
Oscar Klefbom – Justin Schultz
Martin Marincin – Mark Fayne
Scratched: Matt Fraser, Keith Aulie
Injured: Nikita Nikitin (shoulder), Tyler Pitlick (lacerated spleen), Benoit Pouliot (foot), Taylor Hall (left ankle), Ben Scrivens (hamstring)
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais – Dale Weise
Alex Galchenyuk – Tomas Plekanec – Brendan Gallagher
Brandon Prust – Lars Eller – Jiri Sekac
Michael Bournival - Jacob De La Rose – Christian Thomas
Andrei Markov – P.K. Subban
Nathan Beaulieu – Sergei Gonchar
Alexei Emelin – Tom Gilbert
Scratched: Manny Malhotra, Mike Weaver
Injured: Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (concussion)
Status report: Pouliot may be ready to return Saturday at the Ottawa Senators. "The positive sign we got [Thursday] is he felt really good on the ice," Nelson said. ... Tokarski has made one start, a 3-2 loss to Arizona on Feb. 1, in the past nine games. Otherwise, Montreal coach Michel Therrien will go with the same lineup he used Tuesday.
Who's hot: Yakupov had an assist Tuesday after scoring the game-winning goal Monday. Eberle has three assists in his past two games. Desharnais scored in overtime Tuesday to extend his points streak to five games. He has eight points (two goals, six assists) during the streak.