Edmonton, AB - In setting a 2-1-0 record in this year's season-series with Chicago, scoring 16 goals and allowing only 11, the Oilers bring some extra swagger into tonight's game with the Blackhawks.
And, having procured points in its last three, Edmonton is eager to continue the squad's hot hand en route to a second consecutive victory; it hasn't happened since Nov. 22 (Nashville) and 25 (Minnesota), too.
"I'm not sure," said Theo Peckham, who couldn't quite pen a reason for the Oilers' success against good teams this season. "Personally, I try to be as good as I can be every night. Especially for a guy like me that plays the game that I do, I need to be steady, night-in and night-out. I try to be the same and be at that level every game; team-wise, I couldn't tell you.
"I think we understand that, in order to play with this team, we have to be at our best, or else it's going to go 9-2 the other way."
That 9-2 thumping back on Nov. 19 is still an open wound in the Blackhawks' minds. Patrick Kane, among others, has been especially vocal in vowing revenge for the embarrassment and the fans' unrelenting 'we want 10!' taunt.
"We all understand that, having a game like that, you're going to have to answer the bell," said an understandable Peckham. "Especially being a guy that's dropped the gloves a couple times, usually when you beat a guy pretty bad, he's going to come knocking the next time looking to settle the score. It's the same thing and we'll have to be ready for it."
"I don't think past results have anything to do with what's got to happen tonight," added Head Coach Tom Renney. "If that's what motivates [Chicago], that's great. They're a good team and they know it. We have to be as good as we can possibly be to beat these guys and that's the end-game right there."
While it won't change the Oilers' attitude toward their skilled opponent, they know they'll have to be at their best in order to capture the points and ride momentum's hot wave. Peckham agrees that the orange and blue's locker room is "proud" of the last couple games, but also that there's a long way to go.
"Any chance you get to play a game in the NHL, it's a dream come true," No. 24 said. "It's not necessarily salvaging the season, but our fans pay a lot of money to come to these games and they want to come watch us work as hard as we can. We want to give them a reason to want to come and keep coming to our games down the stretch. We want to entertain them and give them something to cheer about."
NUGENT-HOPKINS, BARKER CLOSE
"In essence he could go," Renney said of Barker's timeline.
But he won't. Saturday is more likely, as the Oilers' bench boss said the team will roll with the same lineup that propelled the team to a 3-2 win on Tuesday over the Colorado Avalanche.
In RNH's case: "He's real close. I'd be surprised if he wasn't ready for Saturday." Renney wants to make sure his rookie superstar has the proper amount of time to heal, citing the organization's long-term stability as as priority No. 1.
Tom Gilbert was the lone soldier still sporting a non-contact sweater in yesterday's practice, so he's a little further away; close, too, however. In any case, the addition of all three (whenever it happens), means the Oilers will have to make some decisions, particularly on the blueline, about who stays in and who gets the bird's eye, less-than-desired press box view.
"I think our [team's] culture is such that it's an honest group," Renney said. "The way we communicate with [the players] is right up the middle and no BS. They clearly understand that there are some healthy people getting ready to come back into the lineup. Those are the decisions that will be made based on how you execute and your contribution to team needs. Whether that changes the dynamic or not, I'm not sure, but it will certainly test the culture."
One player who's guaranteed to get the call, assuming he maintains his stellar play in upholding Renney's ‘win and you're in' mantra, Devan Dubnyk will once again get the start in goal tonight. The 25-year-old has amassed an 8-11-1 record, 2.83 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 20 starts this season.
Last 10: Chicago 5-2-3; Edmonton 3-5-2
Season Series: Fourth and final meeting of the season. The Blackhawks doubled up the Oilers 6-3 in their first matchup, but were routed 9-2 in their first trip to Rexall Place and edged 4-3 in the most recent game on Jan. 2. Edmonton is led by Jordan Eberle's 2 goals and 8 points, followed in the scoring column by Taylor Hall (4-2-6) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (0-6-6).
Big Story: This game suddenly means a lot more to the Blackhawks than merely trying to put the Oilers back in their place. In losing their last three games, Chicago has fallen from the top of the Western Conference standings to sixth place, while being passed in the Central Division by Detroit, Nashville and St. Louis. The Hawks lost in overtime to the Canucks to begin a nine-game road trip that consists almost entirely of teams already in the playoff picture or battling for a spot, so taking advantage of an Edmonton squad that is double digits out of eighth is paramount.
Blackhawks: On the bright side, Chicago got captain Jonathan Toews and fellow top forward Patrick Sharp back in the lineup and can feel good about the fact it could have won Tuesday's game in Vancouver and probably would have if not for the goaltending heroics of Cory Schneider, who stopped 37 shots. The Blackhawks led briefly after Viktor Stalberg put them ahead 1:17 into the third period, but Cody Hodgson evened the score less than three minutes later and Daniel Sedin's goal 3:37 into overtime sent them to a 3-2 defeat.
"It's pretty frustrating," said Toews, who assisted on a goal after missing the final game before the All-Star break due to a wrist injury. "We had chances to distance ourselves, a ton of odd-man rushes. Give their goaltender credit, he played well."
Oilers: It appears likely Edmonton will spend the final months of the season playing the spoiler role -- if that's the case, it suited the Oilers well on Tuesday as they recorded a 3-2 victory against an Avalanche team on the fringe of the playoff race. Eberle and Eric Belanger staked the home team to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, Hall scored the eventual game-winner in the third and Devan Dubnyk continued to stake his claim toward more playing time and perhaps the No. 1 job down the stretch with a 31-save performance.
"It's been nice to get the opportunity to keep going and roll with it," Dubnyk said. "I have felt good throughout the year but there were some small things that I needed to work on to get to this point. I certainly can't take it for granted. I have to keep my nose down and realize what is allowing me to do this (and) keep doing it."
Who's Hot: Marian Hossa's nine-game points streak ended in the Blackhawks' loss -- he had 3 goals and 8 assists over that stretch. Toews has 5 goals and 5 assists in the last eight games he's played. … Dubnyk is 2-0-1 in his last three starts for the Oilers with a .956 save percentage. Hall has goals in consecutive games.
Injury Report: Chicago is now fully healthy with the exception of forward Daniel Carcillo (knee), who is out for the season. … Edmonton is on the verge of getting back Nugent-Hopkins, who was placed on injured reserve after injuring his shoulder on Jan. 3. Defensemen Cam Barker (ankle) and Tom Gilbert (knee) are also on IR.
Stat Pack: Brendan Morrison saw almost 19 minutes of action in his Blackhawks' debut and was robbed by Dubnyk on his only shot attempt. … Philippe Cornet assisted on Eberle's goal and played close to 11 minutes in his NHL debut for the Oilers.
Puck Drop: A respite of sorts is coming for Chicago after it plays in Alberta on back-to-back nights. Following the games against Edmonton on Thursday and Calgary on Friday, the team is off for five of the next six days, with just Tuesday's date in Colorado on the schedule.