MONTREAL, QC - Bonjour from La Belle Province, where the Oilers seek a win at the Bell Centre Thursday night.
Edmonton squares off with the revamped Montreal Canadiens for the third time in 2020-21. The Canadiens have owned the season series, rolling past the Oilers by a combined score of 8-2 in the two previous meetings at Rogers Place.
Members of the Orange & Blue believe they have made significant progress since the pair of January losses, infiltrating The City of Saints with consecutive victories.
"Our confidence has, for sure, grown," Oilers Captain Connor McDavid said pre-game.
"I like where our game is at compared to where we were when we played them last time. That being said, they're a really good team. Have big, strong D, good goaltending and their forwards, all four lines can play."
It was early in the National Hockey League schedule when the two clubs linked up. Over the two games, the Oilers went 0-for-10 on the power play, 5-for-7 on the penalty kill, accumulated 24 giveaways and blocked 24 shots.
Head Coach Dave Tippett reviewed the losses to Montreal as part of his pre-game preparation and disclosed the changes his club will have to make.
"We weren't near as determined as we should be in the offensive zone to win puck battles and get to the net to create offence," Tippett said. "That's a good place to start for us."
Edmonton has five wins in their last six games - four of which coming against the Ottawa Senators - and are two points back of Montreal in the standings.
"They're sitting at the top of the table in our division so this is a big matchup for us," Darnell Nurse said. "We know what they bring. They're a well-structured team and very hard to play against.
"It's important for us to finish this road trip off the right way and that's what we're focused on."
Jesse Puljujarvi did not participate in the Oilers morning skate. "He was held out for precautionary reasons this morning. We'll see where things go this afternoon," Tippett said.
Winger James Neal took his spot on the top line alongside McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Tippett talked to Neal at length during the pre-game practice to discuss the circumstances should he step into the void left by Puljujärvi.
"We're making sure he knows the situation we're in and the role he needs to play," the Oilers coach added.
Neal is no stranger to playing alongside Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid. He accrued over 500 minutes at 5-on-5 with the two players combined during the 2019-20 season.
"I like playing with Nealer," McDavid said. "He's obviously a veteran guy who has scored a lot of goals. He's a smart player."
Neal, 33, has two tallies and three points in eight games this year. In 63 career games with the Oilers, he has struck 21 times and notched 34 points.
Tippett confirmed Mike Smith would start in goal. The keeper made 27 saves in his season debut against Ottawa on Monday and enters the game against Montreal with a .964 save percentage.
More lineup notes will be made apparent closer to puck-drop.
The Oilers march into Montreal on a two-game winning streak after downing the Ottawa Senators twice in a row during a back-to-back road series. The club enters Thursday's match with a 2-1-0 showing on their current four-game North Division tour.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl saw their 10-game point streaks end in Edmonton's 3-2 win over the Sens. McDavid and Draisaitl rank 1st and 2nd in NHL scoring with 27 and 25 points, respectively.
The Oilers are third in the North Division with an 8-7-0 record, 16 points and a .533 points percentage through 15 games.
Canadiens Team Scope
The Canadiens were doubled up by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, losing by a 4-2 score in the front end of their upcoming back-to-back. Since beginning the season 5-0-2, Montreal has dropped three of six games but remain 2nd in the North Division.
Defender Jeff Petry leads all Canadiens players with 14 points and is second in NHL defencemen scoring. Forwards Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson are tied for the team-lead with nine goals each. Jonathan Drouin is the club's assist leader with 10.
Netminder Jake Allen is 4-1-0 with a 1.81 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. Carey Price is 4-2-2 with a 2.84 GAA and .896 S%.
Thursday's game signals the third of nine dates between the Oilers and Canadiens in 2020-21. Montreal skated away with victories in the two previous outings, outscoring Edmonton 8-2.
Slater Koekkoek (1G), Devin Shore (1G), Tyson Barrie (1A) and McDavid (1A) are the only Oilers players to register a point versus Montreal this year. In 12 career games vs. MTL, McDavid has three goals and 11 assists. In 13 contests, Draisaitl has six goals and 15 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has four goals and 15 points in 17 outings versus the franchise.
Petry leads all players in the season series with two goals and three points. Tomas Tatar (2G), Shea Weber (1G, 1A), Nick Suzuki (2A), Brendan Gallagher (2A) and Phillip Danault (2A) all have two points. Petry has three tallies and 10 points in 12 career games vs. EDM.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers rank 11th on the power play (24.1%) and 25th on the PK (75%). ... The team is averaging 3.47 goals for per game (7th) and 3.47 goals against per game (25th). ... Darnell Nurse (5G, 6A) and Barrie (2G, 9A) are both top-10 in defencemen scoring. ... The Oilers lead the NHL with 20 first-period goals. ... Edmonton is 3rd in scoring by defencemen with 11 goals, 24 assists and 35 points. ... Montreal's D-core is 4th with 11 goals, 23 assists and 34 points. ...
The Canadiens are 17th on the power play (21.3%) and 16th on the PK (80.4%). ... MTL averages 3.85 goals for per game, 1st in the League. ... The club is allowing 2.62 goals against per game (8th-lowest). ... The Canadiens have five double-digit point-getters. ... MTL is 8-2-1 when scoring first. ... Montreal and the Washington Capitals are tied for 1st in the NHL with 20 second-period goals.
OILERS - Gaetan Haas (undisclosed) is on IR; Ethan Bear (face) is on IR; Zack Kassian (upper body) is on LTIR; Oscar Klefbom (shoulder) is on IR.