MONTREAL — The high-flying Edmonton Eskimos are hoping to avoid losing two games in a row but they’ve landed in a tough place to do it.
The Eskimos (5-1) will take on the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes (4-2) tonight at Percival Molson Stadium.
And they’ll do it without star receiver Fred Stamps, who was found to have internal bleeding despite finishing out last week’s 28-16 loss in Winnipeg.
“The biggest thing is we know it’s a tough venue,” coach Kavis Reed said Wednesday. “They’re a well-prepared team every week.
“In Montreal, the fans are passionate the atmosphere’s electric. It’s going to be a task for us, but we have to focus on execution and let it take care of itself.”
The Eskimos opted to stay over in Winnipeg after their first loss of the season so they could get three days of practice before flying to Montreal, whereas they would have missed a day of training had they returned to Edmonton. They also had a shorter flight and one less of a time zone change, Reed explained.
Without Stamps, the CFL receiving leader with 619 yards in six games, Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray will look to spread the work around his other receivers. But Reed said he will be missed.
“It’s a big loss for us, based on his productivity and leadership, but injuries are an opportunity for players to step up,’ he said. ”I’m absolutely amazed by (Stamps’) pain threshold and I love having him as part of our team. He showed a lot, sacrificing his comfort for the team.“
One area they hope to improve is kick returns, and they have brought in much-travelled veteran Jason Armstead to do the job.
“I have no concerns about Jason not having played (this season) because he has historically taken care of his body,’ said Reed. ”We saw that in two practices.
“Jason is a phenomenal athlete. Our return game hasn’t been as productive as we wished, and that is an understatement in some respects. Jason has proven he’s a top returner in this league, and we wanted a veteran so we don’t have to teach him the lessons of the kicking game.”
The Alouettes will be looking for a second win after dropping two in a row. They were impressive last week in a 36-23 victory against the struggling Argonauts in Toronto.
Now they will face the second-best defensive club in the league behind the Blue Bombers with the second-best offence behind Montreal.
Montreal’s veteran rush end Anwar Stewart said the key is to get pressure on Ray.
“We feel we can do the same thing Winnipeg did last week — really get after Ricky Ray,” he said. “We’ll have to bring our A game.
“They’ll be ready to go because they had a loss last week, but we’re excited to have them in our house.”
Injuries have prompted juggling on the Alouettes defensive line, but Stewart will find himself back at his normal position at rush end after being moved to tackle. Ryan Lucas will play tackle backed up by Moton Hopkins. They will also have newly acquired lineman Luc Mullinder in the lineup.
The Alouettes are last in the CFL with only seven sacks, but they have allowed the fewest rushing yards.
Montreal is also without safety Eteinne Boulay, who missed the last two weeks and now has been placed on the nine-game disabled list due to concussion symptoms.
Coach Marc Trestman said more tests will be take to determine how long Boulay will be out, but he doesn’t expect it to be more than nine weeks. Undrafted rookie Jeff Hecht, an Edmonton native, will play safety along with former B.C. Lion Tad Crawford.