CHICAGO – Maybe if it were any other team coming into United Center on Monday night, the Chicago Blackhawks might get caught napping.
It will be Chicago’s third game in four days and with each win or point, the Blackhawks now just extend their own NHL record for consecutive games to start a season with at least a point – which stands at 18 straight contests. There’s got to be a letdown at some point, but the team in the visiting dressing room this time might be enough to prevent it on Monday night.
The Edmonton Oilers walloped Chicago twice at Rexall Place last season and the Blackhawks haven’t forgotten.
“It’s definitely going to be something that we’re [going to be] very conscious and very aware about in the locker room going into that game,” Toews said after Sunday night’s gritty 1-0 home victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. “We’re playing good hockey as a team, but we’ve got be very aware of their young, talented players when they’re on the ice and make it much more difficult for them to play than we have in the past years.”
They didn’t make it all that tough a year ago.
First came a 9-2 Edmonton blowout on Nov. 19 and that was followed by an 8-4 Oilers rout on Feb. 2 of last season – when Sam Gagner scored four goals and added four assists.
“Two ugly games in Edmonton for sure … bad memories there,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the Columbus game on Sunday. “They have a lot of skill. Gagner had a special night the one [game] and they’ve got a lot of ammunition with their speed and their game. It’ll be a great test for us and we’ll try to reflect on what we have to do and have awareness of what they can do … because they embarrassed us twice there last year.”
The last two teams who’ve played the Blackhawks at United Center – the Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks – have successfully prevented a wide-open, fast-skating “track meet” type of game. It’s resulted in hard-hitting, low-scoring games. Quenneville doesn’t anticipate the young, skilled Oilers taking a similar approach.
“Well, we’ll find out real quick,” he said. “I expect them to skate.”
Chicago star defenseman Duncan Keith does, too.
“Last year we didn’t really play good against them and I think there were some games that, not only against Edmonton but against other teams, where we weren’t very good defensively,” Keith said. “Against Edmonton, in particular, it showed … because they have that offense.”
Keith wore a minus-4 rating number after the 9-2 loss, but has his game back to a consistently elite level this season – like almost every one of his teammates. Thus, trying to out-skate Chicago this season can easily go the wrong direction for opposing teams.
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent,” Keith said. “I don’t think there’s been that many games where we’ve been terrible. I think there’s one that sticks out against Calgary, but for us … we’re not reminiscing about the season. Like, it’s 18 games. It’s game by game. We’ve got a big game [Monday night] and that’s what it is.”
Quenneville will meet with reporters early Monday evening, before the game, to give an update on injured second-line center Dave Bolland and announce his starting goalie. Corey Crawford picked up his second shutout of the season against Columbus in his first game back off a
four-game injury absence, but Ray Emery also developed a hot hand in those games.
If Bolland can’t go, look for young center Marcus Kruger to once again man the middle on the second line between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, while Jamal Mayers or Michael Frolik centers the fourth line where Kruger usually plays.
Young star forward Taylor Hall will miss game while serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an illegal hit last week, which means Edmonton coach Ralph Krueger may juggle his line combinations throughout the game once again – as he did in a 3-2 win against the
Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday.
Here is how the Oilers and Blackhawks could line up on Monday night, with Lennart Petrell returning from a concussion and Teemu Hartikainen going on IR with a shoulder ailment: