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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 16.0: Close The Gap (6pm MT, SNW)

Things can change quickly in the NHL.

Two weeks ago the Montreal Canadiens were 5-0-2 and six points ahead of the 3-6-0 Edmonton Oilers. Fast forward to today and if Edmonton wins in regulation, they will be tied with the Canadiens with 18 points. Montreal will still have two games in hand, but a few weeks ago some felt Montreal and Toronto were going to run away with the North division.

This is an important game for Edmonton. The Canadiens dominated the Oilers on January 16th and 18th winning by scores of 5-1 and 3-1, and it gives them an opportunity to prove to themselves they can compete with the Canadiens. Edmonton took care of business beating Ottawa, a team they should beat, but tonight presents a much bigger challenge.

The Habs contained the Oilers entire team, including their top guns. Slater Koekkoek scored with seven minutes remaining in the game when Edmonton trailed 5-0, and two nights later Devin Shore scored shorthanded with 2:09 remaining. Shore and Connor McDavid, who assisted on Koekkoek’s goal, were the only forwards to register a point. And the games were well in hand by then.

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Montreal possesses a big, mobile D corps, and the Oilers forwards are going to have to work hard and crash the net to create chances. I think Montreal’s top-five D-men — Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmundson and Alexander Romanov — are the best top-five in the NHL. Add in Jake Allen, who enters tonight with a league-best .940Sv%, and there likely won’t be many great scoring chances. When the Oilers get good looks, they need to bury them.

Their forwards also need to be more engaged tonight than they were in the first two meetings against Montreal.

“They need to be more determined in the offensive zone to win puck battles, get to the net and create offence,” said Tippett.

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The forwards have played much better since the losses to Montreal, and I’d expect they will provide a much tougher challenge for the Canadien defenders tonight. If the Ennis-Khaira-Archibald line can continue their strong forecheck, that could help wear down the Habs defenders a bit and force them to defend more. Edmonton rarely had an extended time in the offensive zone in their first two meetings.

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But it won’t be easy, as Montreal is one of the best teams in limiting scoring chances against. They are top-five in limiting scoring-chances against.

Montreal has been very good at limiting scoring chances, and they also create many offensively, but so do the Oilers.

Edmonton needs to continue to create chances, but can they be better defensively at the same time as the Habs are very good at creating chances.

LINEUP…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid – Neal
Kahun – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Ennis – Khaira – Archibald
Shore – Turris – Chiasson

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Nurse – Barrie
Lagesson – Larsson
Koekkoek – Bouchard

Smith

Jesse Puljujarvi didn’t skate this morning and he is a game-time decision. Dave Tippett wouldn’t elaborate on what the issue was, but said not having him on the ice this morning was precautionary. Then the NHL put out this tweet.

This doesn’t mean Puljujarvi has tested positive, but he is in COVID protocol. It could also be due to an inconclusive test, and they are awaiting results. Either way the game will be pushed back one hour.

Puljujarvi has been the second best player on his line for the past two weeks, and not having his size and speed against Montreal’s large defence would be blow. If he doesn’t play, James Neal will take his spot.

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Mike Smith will start in goal. He looked very good in his season debut on Monday, and the Oilers will need another strong performance from him tonight if they hope to move into a tie with the Canadiens for second place in the North division.

Habs

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Anderson
Toffoli – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Lehkonen – Evans – Perry

Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Romanov

Allen

Jake Allen has been excellent for the Canadiens this season. He has allowed only nine goals in five games. This season he’s allowed 1-3-1-3-1 goals in his five games. Does that mean he’s due to allow three tonight? The Oilers hope so. He’s only allowed four goals at EV this season, stopping 109 of 113 shots. Edmonton likely won’t get any Marcus Hogberg-like “easy” goals tonight.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton takes advantage of having yesterday off, while the Canadiens were losing to Toronto, and skate past Montreal 3-2.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid and Draisaitl both get on the scoresheet after being held pointless in Ottawa on Tuesday.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Khaira enters tonight averaging one point/game against the Habs (3-2-5 in five games) and he exits still averaging a point-per-game. Montreal is the only team he averages more than 0.60 points/game against in his career.

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