MONTREAL — The big question when the Edmonton Oilers play the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday night is how will the visitors respond to coach Todd McLellan’s rant at practice on Thursday.
The Oilers, 4-6-0 in their past 10 games and one of the NHL’s most disappointing teams this season (eight points out of a wild-card position), were sloppy during a drill at practice Thursday, sparking McLellan’s outburst which was picked up by the TSN network.
“There is nobody checking us right now,” McLellan yelled at his players. “There’s not a (bleeping) single soul out there checking and we can’t make the first (bleeping) pass or the second one. Are you giving yourselves a chance? Is it (bleeping) important? Are you getting better? Because some team is getting better somewhere this morning somewhere.”
There are a lot of teams better than the Oilers right now. They are 14th in the Western Conference with an 11-15-2 record. They are coming off a 4-2 home loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday.
Edmonton is last in the NHL in penalty killing (72.34 percent), 26th in power play (16.66 percent), gave up the first goal 18 times in 28 games and have been outscored 31-23 in the first period. The power play is 0-for-16 in the past eight games.
“We haven’t been good enough in the first. We always seem to come out sluggish and wait for something bad to happen,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid told Postmedia. “This is a long way from over. It’s still early. It’s early December. There’s a lot of hockey left … nobody is going to roll over in here.”
The Canadiens (13-13-4) have their own issues. After winning five games in a row coinciding with the return of star goaltender Carey Price, who missed 10 games with a lower-body injury, they have lost two games straight. The Canadiens blew a 2-1 third-period lead and lost 3-2 in overtime to the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
Montreal will likely have center Jonathan Drouin back in the lineup against the Oilers. Drouin missed the past four games, starting with a lower-body injury and then an illness.
Drouin, tied for second in scoring on the Canadiens with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists), practiced Friday on a line with Alex Galchenyuk, who played a season-low 9:18 against the Flames, and Andrew Shaw.
“I feel good. It was tough on the body for a few days,” Drouin told montrealcanadiens.com. “The virus was tougher than the injury. It would have been tough to play (Thursday). I didn’t really have energy and I had trouble moving.”
Montreal coach Claude Julien said after the loss to the Flames that Galchenyuk was sat down because he lost too many battles. The 23-year-old was the Canadiens’ first pick (No. 3 overall) in the 2012 draft and has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) this season.
“We know he’s a good player with a lot of talent. We’re sitting down with him, looking at video with him and talking about different things,” Julien told reporters after practice. “At the end of the day, we never give up on players and we know that Alex is still young.”
“It’s disappointing not being played more,” Galchenyuk told the team’s website. “It’s definitely not fun, but it happens.”