Winless in three games to start this seven-game road trip, the Edmonton Oilers face a stiff test tonight in Chicago when they face a Blackhawks team that not only has the League's best record but also is in the mood for some revenge.
Last time these two teams met, the Oilers throttled the Blackhawks to the tune of 9-2 at Rexall Place. Chicago is determined to not have that happen again and Oilers head coach Tom Renney says that's a good thing.
"Let's go right to the acid test. If we're going to grow up and be a competitive team we have to take responsibility for our performance, when they're good and bad," stated the head coach.
"We had a strong game against these guys last time we saw them and we know that they're way better than a seven-goal spread. We're going to have to bring our A game from top to bottom tonight."
Last time the Oilers played the Blackhawks they went with some very different line combinations -- combos that Renney hinted could be used again tonight.
"We're looking at that," Renney said of using the same lines as November 19. "I think that's a good possibility. We want a good balance to our lineup too, I guess you could call it road balance."
In that game, the Oilers went with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
alongside Jordan Eberle
and Ryan Smyth
as the top line. Sam Gagner
skated with Ales Hemsky
and Taylor Hall
on the second unit. The third line was Anton Lander
, Shawn Horcoff
and Ryan Jones
"We want to roll four and push the pace ourselves to a responsible two-way game. We also want to look at the offence we were able to create the last time we played these guys."
agreed that the team needs to be at its best to better the Blackhawks tonight.
"It's been quite some time since then but I'm sure they haven't forgot. We've been beaten like that by teams and we certainly don't forget," he said.
There was some discussion in the Blackhawks room about the Oilers running up the score on that night, but Hall was adamant that wasn't the case.
"There was no conversation about going for 10 or anything. I could hear the fans chanting 'we want 10' which was interesting because I was hearing from the guys that in the previous couple of years when Chicago was beating them with 9 goals the fans were also chanting the same thing," he said, adding "we didn't want to develop bad habits."
With the arrival of Teemu Hartikainen
, who missed the morning skate but got to the team's hotel around 1:00 p.m., the fourth line will obviously be different from that 9-2 win against the 'Hawks in November. Hartikainen is likely to play with Ben Eager
and Eric Belanger
"He's a type of player who can probably play one through four. As long as he does what he does well for us. He's a heavy body, goes to the net well and he's a feisty guy," said Renney when asked what could be expected of the Finnish winger tonight.
Hartikainen was strong down the stretch last season for the Oilers, picking up three goals and five points in 12 games. However, coach Renney said it wasn't too difficult a decision to send him back to OKC at the end of training camp for some more seasoning.
"I thought he needed to be better coming out of camp. I thought he just missed it. He needed to be a little bit better and he probably would have gave himself a chance," Renney began. "I thought to myself at training camp, I did have higher expectations for him -- not from a scoring perspective -- just the wherewithal to play hard under all circumstances for a guy who was really trying to crack the lineup. He left me kind of hanging a little bit."
After missing a month due to injury, Hartikainen finally returned to action with the Barons on December 27. He has picked up two assists in four games since his return -- one in each of the last two games he's played.
DUBNYK GOES AGAIN
Despite what Renney offered up as a sub-standard performance on New Year's Eve against the Islanders, the head coach has decided to go with Devan Dubnyk
once again tonight against the Blackhawks.
"He wasn't strong to start with (against the Islanders) and sometimes you've got to give a guy the opportunity to bounce back," Renney said. "It's a function of a guy who can clearly play the position and play it well. He needs to know that as well as skaters, goalies too should get a second chance."
This will be Dubnyk's first game of the season against Chicago with Khabibulin having played the previous two outings.
JONES SORE BUT READY
Near the end of Saturday's game, Ryan Jones
took a shot off the ankle and limped off the ice causing some concern that he may miss some action but when x-rays came back negative, Jones was good to go.
"It's sore, obviously, but lucky enough it's not in a place where I push off in my skating stride. It's one of those things where if it's not going to do anymore damage no sense sitting out."
Jones has 12 goals in 37 games for the Oilers, having not missed a game this season so far.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Oilers 2-8-0; Blackhawks 8-2-0
This is the third of four games between Edmonton and Chicago and the teams have split the first two –- with both sides winning on home ice. The Hawks took care of the Oilers 6-3 on Nov. 13 at the United Center, but the Oilers paid them back and then some a week later at Rexall Place with a 9-2 shellacking during Chicago's yearly "circus trip."
You can't blame the Blackhawks if they're looking at this game as a chance to get revenge for that embarrassing defeat in Edmonton, which helped inflate their otherwise solid penalty kill statistics with four Oilers power-play goals and had the pro-Oilers crowd pleading for a 10th goal before time mercifully ran out. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville called it a humiliating loss and his players agreed. The Hawks have since turned it around with a 12-4-1 record after that game and now sit atop the Western Conference standings with 52 points. Edmonton, meanwhile, is reeling. After getting off to a solid 8-2-2 start, the wheels have come off for the youth-oriented Oilers. They've lost three straight and have a 7-17-1 record in their past 25 games, including a 4-1 road loss on Saturday night to the New York Islanders.
A pair of undisciplined roughing penalties called on former Blackhawk Ben Eager
both led to power-play goals for the Islanders, who used them to drub the Oilers 4-1 on New Year's Eve at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Eager also picked up an unsportsmanlike penalty and 10-minute misconduct in the second period to cap a rough night for him and his team. The loss gave Edmonton its third straight defeat to start a seven-game road trip caused by the World Junior Championship being played at the Oilers' Rexall Place. Saturday's game also featured the past three No.1-overall picks playing for both teams, but New York's John Tavares (2009) got the best of the Oilers' Taylor Hall
(2010) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
(2011) with one goal and one assist.
"We're fighting from the bottom looking up," Oilers defenseman Andy Sutton
said afterward. "We have to the make the most of these opportunities against teams that are on our level."
After waiting nearly nine months to play their longest-tenured rival on Friday night at the United Center, the Blackhawks exacted some measure of revenge for a stinging loss on last season's final day to the Detroit Red Wings. Brent Seabrook's goal to start the third period wound up standing up as the game-winner in a 3-2 win that put a little bit of separation between the top-seated Hawks and Wings in both the Central Division and Western Conference standings. Captain Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa were also dominant against Detroit, with both scoring goals and Toews getting his on a penalty shot -- which was Chicago's first of the season and the first of his career in his second attempt. Chicago went a sterling 10-2-1 in the month of December and shows no signs of slowing up.
"It was a great month," Hossa said. "We just have to build on that, start January the same way (and) try to win another hockey game."
Hossa's 41 points ranks him in the League's Top 10 for scoring and he's recorded points in nine of his past 10 games (6 goals, 9 assists) for the Hawks; Jordan Eberle
had a six-game point streak snapped against the Islanders, in which he scored five goals and added three assists. He's also on the verge of the League's top-10 scoring leaders with 39 points.
Chicago's Marcus Kruger, who's missed the past two games, continues to battle an upper body injury believed to be related to concussion symptoms; Cam Barker
(ankle) is still out, top defenseman Ryan Whitney
has missed three straight games with an ankle injury and rookie defenseman Alex Plante
has missed two straight games after being diagnosed with a concussion.
The Blackhawks have killed off six straight power plays over the past two games and 14 of the last 16 they've faced in the past four games, including six of seven Dec. 20 against the Pittsburgh Penguins; after going 0-for-4 on the man advantage on Long Island Saturday night, the Oilers' road power play's success rate dropped to 15.5 percent -- almost 10 percentage points lower than their League-high home rate of 24.4 percent.
Chicago's 22-year old Jimmy Hayes had an impressive NHL debut against the Red Wings on Friday night, by nearly scoring his first goal in the first period and throwing his 6-foot-6, 221-pound frame around all night, finishing with four hits in 8:23 of ice time.
"I thought he asserted himself well," Quenneville said. "He was dangerous around the net. He didn't play a ton, but great first game for him."
Hayes' younger brother, Kevin, was the Hawks' top pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (24th overall) and currently plays at Boston College.