November 08 2011 10:56AM
He's only played 22:51 minutes so far this year, but after missing 11 straight games Ales Hemsky returns to the lineup, and for the 2nd straight season he'll comeback in Montreal. He missed three games before returning to the lineup on December 1, 2010 and quickly tallied a goals and two assists in over 18 minutes of icetime. The Nation was excited to have him back, but after that three-point night Hemsky sat out the next ten games.
There are two things we know about Hemsky.
1. He's a world class player. He is one of the most exciting players in the game and is a difference maker when he plays.
2. He's become injury prone. In his first four post-lockout seasons he missed 37 games, but in the past two season and start of this year he's missed 106 games.
Hemsky and the Oilers are hoping his string of bad luck is over.
Despite their great start, it is clear they miss Hemsky's offence. The Oilers are 25th in GPG (goals per game) at 2.23. They've only scored 18 goals at EV which is 29th in the league. Their powerplay is saving them right now with 10 PP goals which is 8th most.
They've been winning with solid team defence and exceptional goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin. The 39-year-old continues to shock the NHL with a spakling 0.98 GAA and 0.963 SV%, but the Oilers can't expect him to maintain those numbers. They will need some offence if they plan on staying in a playoff spot.
Tom Renney has decided that Magnus Paajarvi will be the first player, in what will likely be a regular rotation, to take a seat in the pressbox. The Oilers finally have 13 healthy forwards, which gives Renney some leverage when it comes to asking more from his players.
I'm sure many won't agree with Paajarvi sitting out tonight, but the obvious choices were either him or Gagner. The 4th line has played very well and done everything Renney has asked of them. I'm sure we will see one of them take a seat in the pressbox soon, but Renney needed to make a statement. Paajarvi's role is to produce offensively, not like a top-six forward just yet, but he needs to add more than one point in 13 games.
I don't think he'll be in the pressbox very long, maybe a game or two, but it didn't hurt his development last year when he spent a game up there, and I don't see this benching ruining him either. Right now Taylor Hall and Ryan Smyth have earned more icetime, so when he gets back in, Paajarvi is going to have to produce 5-on-5 and earn more icetime.
I'd be surprised if 91 wasn't back on the ice in Boston or Detroit.
I was hoping to see Paajarvi play with Gagner and Hemsky, but Renney is going to re-unite Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth and Hemksy instead. It makes sense to put them together, but I also felt that having 83 on a different line could potentially give them three lines with an offensive threat.
Ryan Jones will move down and play with Eric Belanger and Sam Gagner, while the young guns and the 4th line remain the same.
Jones and Gagner might switch wings.
They didn't skate any pairings this morning, but word out of Montreal is that Barker is ready and it looks like Colten Teubert will come out. I'm guessing Renney will use the following pairs because then he has a right and left shot on each pair.
- The Habs are one of the least aggresive teams in the league. P.K Subban is physical, but after him they won't offer much in terms of crash and bang. I'd like to see Renney give his 4th line an early shift to see if Ben Eager can ignite some fire in the Oilers. They've been very passive with only seven first-period goals. Of course they've only given up three (best in the league), but I'd like to see them attack more early on.
- I've been asked by numerous people on twitter what is the over/under on how many games Hemsky plays before he is out again. I hope it is 50, because he is one of the few players that lifts me out of my seat. I'll set the line at 16, but that's more the optimist in me.
- I'll be broadcasting live from the Pint Off Whyte today. The Nation's newest writer, Jason Strudwick, will join me from 5 to 6 p.m. today, and if you come to watch the game tonight, you'll have a chance to win Club seats for the Habs return visit to Edmonton on Thursday March 8th. We'll have some other prizes as well.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers are 3-0 v. the East this year with wins over the Penguins, Rangers and Capitals and they will stay perfect after a 3-2 win tonight. The streak will end in Boston though.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hemsky will pick up two points in his first game back, and Hall will end his four-game goalless streak.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Darcy Hordichuk will instruct Teubert and Paajarvi to pick up enough Chien Chauds for the team. Smyth will be the last guy getting on the bus and realizes there isn't one left for him. Smyth will calmly announce this dilemma and Teubert and Paajarvi will play a best of three rock -paper-scissors to see who has to run and grab one. Paajarvi tells Teubert he is going to go with rock, and Teubert doesn't believe him and gets his scissors crushed. In round two Paajarvi tells him he's going rock again, and this time Teubert gets his paper cut by Paajarvi's scissors. "Rookie," yells Paajarvi as he celebrates with a fist pump.