With all three West Coast teams in action tonight this seems like a fitting time to dive into things! The Oilers kick things off against the Canadiens which is almost poetic. Follow that up with the Flames travelling to Vancouver to take on the Canucks in Markstrom’s return to his former crease.
EDMONTON OILERS @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
Starting with game one, the Oilers are set to make a quick stop at Le Centre (doesn’t have the same ring as The Forum, but I tried) to face the Habs. For the moment that game has been pushed an hour to start at 8pm EST. The league is dealing with an inconclusive test from an Oilers player. The delayed start time should allow the league to further investigate and decide whether or not to play tonight’s game.
The Oilers come in on a 2 game win streak while the Habs have been sputtering of late. Losers of two of their last three games, the Habs desperately need to get back on track. For a team whose calling card has been it’s depth this far, the irony of losing to the Leafs depth is funny. Infuriating, but funny. Two player’s who could possibly turn the team around are Price and Danault. Coincidentally these are also two contracts constantly brought up by the media.
Price is a perenial slow starter whose subpar play by his standards has been offset by the team’s hot start. Spending a lot more time individually with Stephane Waite now a days, Price looks to get back to form to help the team. Danault on the other hand is playing with a death lock grip on his stick. There’s a clear mental block happening. Breaking the ice and getting his first goal of the season will be a huge relief for one of the team’s most important players.
Before I get lost in the Habs, back to the Oilers. Winners of five of their last six, Edmonton has gotten themselves back in the mix thanks in large part to, you guessed it, McDavid and Draisaitl. The fact that neither got a point against the Senators on Tuesday night should be a frightening prospect for all Habs fans. If you think it’s just one game, take a look and the effort level from these two to get that empty netter.
Two points tonight would by a huge swing in the standings for the Oilers. To this point they have the most games played so they need to gain as many points as possible on the teams who have games in hand. Mike Smith started the season on the injured list but hopes to come in a solidify a crease that has been bleeding goals. He will face off against Jake Allen who gets the start tonight for the Habs!
If tonight’s game gets rolling (fingers crossed!) the Habs will depth will need to get back on track. Shutting down McDavid and Draisaitl will be impossible, so minimize the damage and relentlessly cycle the puck in the OZ.
Prediction: Habs 4-3
VANCOUVER CANUCKS @ CALGARY FLAMES
Switching things over to the West Coast for game two, the Canucks welcome the Flames. As well as several familiar faces. Vancouver’s tumultuous off-season has been well documented and their fans have no been shy about voicing their displeasure. Personally I don’t blame them, but the Canucks are at a cross road. This 4 game series could either bring the team back to .500 and back in contention, or sink their playoff hopes a third of the way into the season.
To make matters worse, rolling into town is former goaltender and team back bone Jacob Markstrom. Marky along with heart and soul, locker room favourite Chris Tanev both took their talents one province over to Alberta this off season.
Tanev’s insertion into the Flames defense core has not been given enough attention. Tanev has raised Noah Hanifin’s level of play to give this team a well rounded top four on the Blue Line. Now add the return of Jusso Valimaki to the mix and the Flames are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were last season.
Tied for the least amount of games played, the Flames come into tonight’s action 2 points behind the Jets. The early season schedule has been odd for the Flames. After getting off to a hot start, picking up points in their first three games, the Flames have been up and down since. This team is missing a top 6 forward with the constant carousel of players added to the wing beside Monahan and Gaudreau.
The team tried Bennett there last game in an attempt to spark to slumping former fourth overall pick. In theory his playing style would compliment these two nicely, but I would love to see him play with Tkachuk and Lindholm. Tkachuk’s engine never turns off and Lindholm is arguable the team’s best player at this point. To me this would seem like a better fit, but I would assume Ward knows best so let’s give it time.
All of this could be a series of moot points. Markstrom is one of the rare goalies in the NHL that can win a game by himself. The Canucks know this all too well. In their two games this season Markstrom has stopped 57 of 59 Canucks shots, shutting them out in their first game against each other. I expect a similar performance from him tonight, which would essentially mean the Flames just need one shot to go in to win.
Prediction: Flame 3-0