– 12 nights, six cities, six games and seven flights: the Oilers' marathon road trip is about to come to a close. With a 20-minute morning skate at Chicago's United Center, the orange and blue are primed and prepared to take on the Blackhawks in an effort to end the swing with a 3-3, .500 record.
Following losses to the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and an equally skilled Detroit Red Wings squad in a back-to-back set, Head Coach Tom Renney wants to see a more balanced 60-minute attack vs. Chicago.
"We have to play our game," he explained. "I think what's happened, however, is that it vaporizes a little bit on us. We've got to stay with it and understand that if it's nothing-nothing going into the third, that's a good thing. If it's 1-1, that's fine.
"We've got to make sure that we play 60 minutes of hockey, understand who we are and play to our strengths. We want to learn more from winning now."
, who played 18:05 the other night in Detroit while recording a -1 rating, agreed with his coach's assessment and commented on the team's need to bear down on more high-quality scoring chances.
"I don't think we're too happy with our performance [in Detroit]. The score indicated the game more so than the shot totals (30-24 Red Wings). For us it's about getting those quality scoring chances and not just shooting them in from the outside and keeping the shots close.
"It's about getting more net-drive and being more gritty in front of the net, and getting those nasty goals instead of looking for the pretty plays."
Against a team like the Blackhawks, who have scored 56 goals in 2011-12 to place second in the league's goals-for rankings, it's especially important.
"I think we need to make sure we're doing the simple things right," Peckham added. "Getting pucks out, getting pucks in; I know it's a cliché, but they're also true. It's what you have to do to win in this league."
QUEST FOR .500
The Oilers have gone 2-3-0 on the trip so far and have the chance to split the win-loss ratio with a victory in Chicago. The orange and blue are, at the moment, riding a two-game losing skid and are up against one of the NHL's most potent scoring attacks tonight.
"It's a big game," Ryan Jones
said at the Oilers' morning skate. The 27-year-old winger has scored three goals and three assists this season, including one of each on the current trip. "Anytime you can go .500 on the road is usually a success; and especially a road trip like this when you're facing the caliber of the teams that we have on this trip.
"When we started out, .500 wasn't exactly our goal. I think we were aiming a little higher than that, but the situation that we're in right now is something we can't control."
Jones has scored one career goal vs. Chicago in 12 games and has had a good start to the season. With a chance to end the road trip on a strong note, the Chatham, ON native is well prepared for an expected challenge against one of the league's elite teams.
"One thing they do well is that they throw everybody at you," he said. "They'll have guys up on the rush, but at the same time they'll track back quick; you have a lot of back pressure. We have to keep our game simple, put it deep and force their D to play in their own end, and I think we'll have success.
"You're going to see a more simple game from us tonight."
WHO'S IN & WHO'S OUT
, who missed Friday's game in Detroit as a scratch, will be re-inserted vs. his former team. The 27-year-old played parts of three seasons with the Blackhawks, scoring 18 goals and 15 assists, while racking up 308 PIM in 144 regular season games.
According to the coach, No. 55 will play for sure, but the player in which he'll replace is still up in the air.
"I've got a game-time decision to make on that," Renney explained. "Ben will play; as to who comes out, I'm not sure yet. We'll see how it goes.
"I've got to make sure people are playing. I don't want guys out too long. We've got a good, young team here and people have to play. The bottom line is that it's not so much about a guy might not be doing on the ice, it's who's out and needing to get them back in."
It's expected that Anton Lander
will be the odd-man out.
Also, Nikolai Khabibulin
, 7-1-2, and his 1.18 goals-against average and .957 save percentage will return to the crease as the 38-year-old veteran gets the start against his ex-team as well.
Khabibulin played four seasons with Chicago, 202 games, posting a 90-80-24 record from 2005-2009.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Edmonton 7-3-0; Chicago 6-3-1
This is the first of four meetings between the two Western Conference teams. The two teams split their four meetings last season, with the road team winning all four games.
In a matchup of division leaders, youth-driven Edmonton looks to right the ship against Chicago, which is 6-1-2 at home. After winning six in a row to close out October, the Oilers have lost two straight and three of five on their road trip, which concludes at the United Center. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are winners of their last two and have built a five-point edge in the Central.
Upon further inspection, Edmonton's recent struggles are less concerning than the two straight losses seem. In Boston and Detroit, the Oilers came away empty-handed against two of the hottest teams in the League on their home ice. Still, coach Tom Renney said the young Oilers must fix the mental mistakes to compete against the League's best.
"I think we had to dedicate far too much of our game to penalty-killing," Renney said after Detroit handed Edmonton its first shutout of the season, 3-0. "I think if we could have stayed out of the penalty box … and continued to build on some small excesses throughout the game, it might have been a different outcome. That was a good team that took advantage of the opportunities we gave them. I think our battle level weaned throughout the game."
After three straight losses last week, Chicago looks to be back on track after wins on consecutive nights. The Hawks whipped Columbus 6-3 on the road Thursday, then shut down Calgary 4-1 on Friday at home. Best of all, Chicago's blue line is getting involved, with Steve Montador, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook all scoring their first of the season.
"That's part of our game that needs to be there," Keith said. "I think it's important that we stay on that and help contribute.
"It's nice to get points and things like that but the main thing is just keeping plays alive and having good gaps and supporting our forwards."
Though Patrick Kane may have more points, Marian Hossa is the most valuable Hawk on the depth chart. Hossa, who has a goal and two assists over the last two games, is a League-best plus-11 on the season.
Oilers defenseman Cam Barker
is expected to miss Sunday's game with an ankle injury, and Ryan Whitney
is out for three weeks after suffering a sprained right knee in late October. … Hawks forward Dave Bolland is doubtful with a bruised right foot that has kept him out for the past two games.
Oilers netminder Nikolai Khabibulin
suffered his first regulation loss of the season Friday, dropping to 7-1-2. In Chicago, backup Ray Emery made 24 saves to beat Calgary and improve to 3-0-1 on the year. Starter Corey Crawford – despite allowing 12 goals in three games – will likely be back in net.
"It's not the direction that we want to be going," said Edmonton winger Taylor Hall
, who has just one assist in seven road games. "We really want to finish this road trip at .500. If we do, I think that would be a successful road trip considering the teams that we've played. We want to get our game going the right way, the way we were playing when we were on our win streak."