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PREVIEW: Edmonton Oilers ready to unleash blue-line attack on Canadiens

NHL Fantasy: Shea Weber
Jan 18, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defensemen Shea Weber (6) and Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) chase a loose puck during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lead the way for the Edmonton attack, but the Oilers’ defense has been providing the offense lately.

Edmonton coach Dave Tippett will look for more production when the Oilers travel to Montreal for a Thursday game against the Canadiens. The hosts will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back set after falling 4-2 to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Oilers defensemen Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard and Tyson Barrie tallied all the goals necessary to beat the hapless Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Tuesday, pushing Edmonton (8-7-0) above .500 for the first time this season.

The high-scoring McDavid and Draisaitl were kept off the scoresheet, breaking each star’s 10-game points streak.

Read More: RECAP: Mikko Koskinen stops 40 shots as Oilers beat Senators again

“There’s confidence, and guys are starting to put some games together,” Barrie said of the scoring surge on the blue line. “We’re getting some stability … but I think we’re pushing the pace a lot more. I think that’s the way our team has to play in order to be successful.”

Edmonton should be brimming with confidence after winning five of six and seeing Nurse pace the defensemen on offense.

Nurse, 26, has notched five goals through his first 15 outings — matching his 71-game total from last season — to become the first Oilers rear guard to do so since Sheldon Souray in 2008-09. He has scored a goal in four of the past five games.

The lefty-shooting Nurse’s best scoring season was 2018-19, when he registered 10 markers while playing in all 82 games.

“We’ve been doing a good job at getting in the play and supporting our forwards and getting some shots through the point,” Barrie said. “We’re scoring in all sorts of different ways now.”

Edmonton is tied with Montreal for the most goals in the NHL from its defensemen (11).

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On the medical front, Edmonton’s Zack Kassian sustained an upper-body injury Monday while fighting for the first time this year. He squared off against Ottawa’s Erik Gudbranson just 1:43 into a game, and he never returned to a game the Oilers went on to win 3-1.

Kassian sat out the teams’ rematch on Tuesday, and Tippett said the physical right winger would be week-to-week in the rehab process.

Montreal will try to beat Edmonton for the third time in three matchups this season after the Canadiens outscored the Oilers 8-2 in road wins on Jan. 16 and Jan. 18.

On Wednesday at Toronto, the Canadiens allowed three unanswered goals after Josh Anderson’s ninth tally put them ahead just 76 seconds into the game.

Tomas Tatar narrowed Montreal’s deficit to 3-2 with 3:20 left in the game, but Zach Hyman’s empty-netter at 18:56 secured the win for the Maple Leafs.

Montreal’s Joel Armia, who missed seven games with a concussion, returned to action and played right wing on the third line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tyler Toffoli. Armia played 15:25 without recording a shot on goal.

Before being knocked out of the lineup by Vancouver defenseman Tyler Myers on Jan. 21, Armia produced two goals and three assists in five games and was a plus-6.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien said a key for his team and others in the North Division is stopping superstars such as McDavid, Draisaitl, Mitchell Marner and Auston Matthews.

“There’s a lot of firepower in our division,” Julien said Tuesday. “When we don’t have the puck defensively, we have to be sound. We’ve been trying to work on both aspects — the offensive and defensive parts — and hopefully we find a balance there.”

Related: NHL power rankings – Surging Canes stay in No. 1 spot, Colorado rebounds

–Field Level Media