In the middle of adversity lies an unsung hero waiting for his moment to shine. Cue Nail Yakupov. With Taylor Hall being sidelined for the next month and Ryan Smyth out for at least a week, the Oilers need someone to step up and help shoulder the offensive load. The time is now for Yakupov to grab the bull by the horns and prove every doubter and critic wrong, especially Darren Dreger. The young Russian will get every opportunity to do just that playing along side Jordan Eberel and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the top line.
Speaking of Eberle, the silky smooth forward is battling a hip strain that kept him out of practice for two straight days since the team arrived in Montreal. More of a precautionary move, Eberle will be in the lineup tonight and like Yakupov, he will be counted on to continue his fine offensive play.
One area of great concern for the Oilers is their power play. After a strong start to the season with the man advantage, the Oilers PP has been awful lately and on numerous occasions they can’t get into the offensive zone. Last year they had one of the best man advantage units in the league and this year it has quickly turned the other way. This is something that must improve if the Oilers want to climb the standings in the Western Conference.
The same argument could be said for the team’s penalty kill which currently ranks 27th overall at a dismal 73.5%. Tightening up the defensive box and controlling the rebounds will be critical for the Oilers to avoid handing the Canadiens the game on a silver platter.
When Dallas Eakins was asked what he wants from recent call ups Ben Eager and Tyler Pitlick, he replied with a simple answer – energy. Look for both players to play an aggressive and physical game tonight with the third line potentially serving as a shut down line.
Ales Hemsky has been know to disappear in the past and if there was a time that the Oilers need him more than ever, that time is now. Hemsky has started the year strong but tailed off recently with just one goal and no assists in his last five games. He needs to regain his scoring touch and make David Perron and Mark Arcobello better by creating scoring chances for his linemates the way only Hemsky can.