MONTREAL, QC - The Oilers road trip continues on Saturday with a game against former teammate Ben Scrivens and the Montreal Canadiens. It will be the first-ever NHL game at the Bell Centre for Connor McDavid. Oilers head coach Todd McLellan was asked about the significance of that milestone.
“Players look forward to playing in this building whether it’s their first trip in or whether they’ve played many, many years in the League. When you’re out west you don’t get to tour these places that often. It’ll be a special night,” said McLellan. “Now, we need to perform properly and have a special performance in this building to have success.
“I think we’ll face a growly team that’s going to come out very prepared.”
The Canadiens have fallen on tough times as of late. After starting the season with a League-best 19-4-3 record, they have gone 5-20-1 in their last 26 games including dropping their last four games in a row. The Habs are also 1-8-1 in their last 10 as they have slipped to six points out of a playoffs pot.
The Oilers are coming out of the all-star break on fire with a 5-1 win against Columbus on Tuesday followed by an even more convincing 7-2 victory in Ottawa on Thursday. Forward Matt Hendricks was asked about the team’s fortunes and what they need to do to avoid a letdown against the Canadiens tonight.
“Our Columbus game we had a lot of good things but we still had a chance to close them out and we allowed them back into the game a little bit there. Last night was a lot better in Ottawa. We had an opportunity to suffocate them and we did. We finished them the way we wanted to finish it. We had a good game last night. We’ve got to continue to play that type of 60 minutes. It’s a Canadian team right now that we need to get a jump on early,” Hendricks began.
“Before the break we were having a hard time finding the back of the net. Since the break’s been over, we’ve been producing a lot of shots — especially early in games — but also finding ways to finish. It’s put the opponent on their heels.”
KASSIAN RETURNS TO MONTREAL
Saturday’s game will mark the return of Zack Kassian to Montreal after he was dealt to the Oilers in December in exchange for Scrivens. McLellan was asked about his contribution to the team, which has included two goals and four points in eight games.
“I’m not surprised by his contribution,” he said. “We saw him play a lot in Vancouver when I was in San Jose. We had a playoff series and a lot of regular season games. I think the key for us is the role we have him in. He’s playing with a couple guys, one can skate and shoot. The other is a good checker. He’s not expected, nor do we put pressure on him to score 25 or 30 goals playing with top players. He’s finding his way with our team and back into the League and has done a very admiral job. He’s certainly made a difference to our club.
“More importantly, is the person. That’s our number-one goal with him to make sure he gets what he needs individually so he could live a good, healthy life.”
Kassian described his time in Montreal as a turning point in his career despite never having suited up in a regular season game for the team.
“I never really sat down and thought about repercussions, what I was doing or who I was affecting or how it was affecting my career,” he said after practice at the Bell Centre on Friday. “That accident really was an eyeopener for me. At the time obviously it was very tough to handle. I embarrassed my family, my friends and the organization. But when something like that happens you really have to look at yourself in the mirror.”
The accident Kassian speaks of was an early-morning vehicle accident where he was a passenger in which he broke his nose and foot. He entered Stage Two of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH) of the NHL and NHLPA shortly afterwards.
“I felt like that was my rock bottom. Sometimes they talk about that, you have to hit a rock bottom to really grasp the concept of what you’re doing. I felt like that was my rock bottom and I didn’t want to go back there.”
Kassian has used that feeling of rock bottom to help guide himself and make the right choices but hasn't let it change who he is.
“I’m still the same person. I know what’s at stake and I know what I have and I have to stay on top of it. But I’m still the same guy in the room, the same guy on the ice. It’s just me growing up.”
HENDRICKS PERFORMING WELL WITH FINNS
Oilers forward Matt Hendricks has been shifted to the middle between Lauri Korpikoski and Iiro Pakarinen. So far, the trio has enjoyed some success particularly last game in Ottawa when they combined for four points.
Hendricks was asked about his on-ice success with the two Finns.
“First off, I’m playing with two great guys in Lauri and Iiro. They’re both very defence-orientated where they can help protect me in the middle a bit. I’m still getting my feet wet, getting used to playing a new position I haven’t played in awhile. They’re protecting me and helping me with net-front coverage in the defensive zone.”
The three players have been a force both offensively and defensively. Even when not putting up points on the scoresheet, they've pinned the opposition deep in their own end for lengthy periods of time which naturally has positive effects.
“They’re both skilled. They both like to make plays, they both like to shoot the puck. And they’re hard to play against down low in the offensive zone. Team defenders have a hard time staying on them and staying with them.”
Hendricks was asked if he's been brushing up on his Finnish now that he's playing with the two players from Finland.
“I look at them and ask, ‘what are you guys talking about? I’m not that bad, am I?’ and they start laughing. It’s all good. We’re having a good time together right now.”
Korpikoski laughed when asked about the foreign language speak between himself and Pakarinen.
“It’s better that me and Iiro talk finish and keep him on the outside. He doesn’t know what’s going on, it’s better that way,” Korpikoski remarked.
DEFENCE UNITS SHUFFLED
The forward units remained the same as Thursday against the Senators but the defence pairings were shuffled up. Forward units:
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers won 4-3 at Rexall Place on Oct. 29 for their fourth consecutive victory against the Montreal Canadiens dating back to the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Edmonton forward Leon Draisatl scored twice and Oilers forwards Connor McDavid and Taylor Hall each had two assists. Forwards Brendan Gallagher, Torrey Mitchell and Alex Galchenyuk scored for Montreal.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton has gone 5-for-6 on the power play and scored 12 goals while winning its first two games following the All-Star break. McDavid has five points, including three in his return to the lineup Tuesday in the Oilers' 5-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets after missing 37 games because of a broken left clavicle. Linemate Jordan Eberle has scored three goals, including a pair in the first period Thursday. All three goals were set up by McDavid, who Oilers coach Todd McLellan had the luxury of limiting to 13:22 of ice time during Edmonton's 7-2 win at the Ottawa Senators. Eberle had three goals in his previous 18 games prior to McDavid's return. "Chemistry is something you have to build," Eberle told the Edmonton Sun on Thursday. "I've only been on the ice with him for two games. That stuff takes a little bit of time. It's a good start but there's a lot of hockey left to be played." Forward Zack Kassian, who scored Thursday, has two goals and two assists in eight games with Edmonton, who acquired him from Montreal in a trade for goalie Ben Scrivens on Dec. 28.
Canadiens team scope: Scrivens will start against his former team. He is 0-4-0 with a 3.85 goals-against-average and .873 save percentage in four games with Montreal, which has lost 21 of 26 games since starting 19-4-3. The Canadiens' fortunes turned on their loss in Edmonton, when Hart and Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Carey Price sustained the initial lower-body injury that has ultimately sidelined him for all but three games since. Price, who has not played since he re-injured himself on Nov. 25, has been skating without goalie equipment daily for several weeks. On Friday, he worked on lateral movement in the crease for the first time while wearing a goalie glove and holding a goalie stick with his blocker. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien did not have any update to offer on Price's progress after practice. "When he's going to come to the next stage of his rehab, I will let you know and I will be more than happy to let you know," Therrien said. "But right now, it's about the same." Forward Lucas Lessio will miss two to three weeks because of a lower-body injury he sustained Tuesday when he was clipped by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas.