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Blackhawks Buzz: Circus Trip begins with Oilers rematch

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks


Thirteen days, two countries, six Pacific Division opponents and thousands of air miles logged. That's the challenge for the Blackhawks on their annual Circus Trip, which began with a Tuesday afternoon flight to Edmonton and will run out the month of November. Chicago has enjoyed successful Circus Trips dating back to 2007, including a 5-1-0 surge last season that propelled the team near the top of the standings. Wednesday's tilt comes against the Oilers, who the Blackhawks dispatched 4-2 on Nov. 8 at the United Center. Edmonton is still searching for an identity under new head coach Todd McLellan, but some of the same issues that derailed previous campaigns—subpar goaltending and defense, injuries—have continued to plague them. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are still looking for consistency on the road, and they'll need to build off last Saturday's gritty, resilient effort in St. Louis.


Life without Connor McDavid has been tough for the Oilers, who have won just one of their five games without last summer's first-overall pick. The good news for the team is the continued emergence of Leon Draisaitl, who tallied a goal and an assist in Edmonton's 4-3 loss to Los Angeles. That performance extended his point streak to three games (2G, 4A), including a three-point night against Anaheim last week. The 20-year-old now has 13 points in just eight games for Edmonton this season, and he's quickly ascended to the top line, playing alongside team points leader Taylor Hall (20 points) and Teddy Purcell (four points in his last four games). With Jordan Eberle still not at peak condition and other players battling the flu, the Oilers will need Draisaitl and his line to set the pace against the Blackhawks.


Another game, another round of accolades for Chicago's second line of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. The two wingers each scored against Calgary, extending point streaks that now span 13 games for Kane—one away from matching his career long—and five for Panarin. Kane also stretched his personal-best scoring streak to seven games, the longest by a Blackhawks player since Steve Larmer in 1987 and the longest in the NHL since Patrice Bergeron in 2014. The line was responsible for all four goals in Chicago's win over Edmonton earlier this month, and will try set the tone for the Blackhawks once more on Wednesday.


After inking a seven-year contract extension in September, defenseman Oscar Klefbom has had an up-and-down season for Edmonton, but one area of his game that's not in doubt is his ability to contribute offensively. The 22-year-old collected a pair of helpers in Edmonton's loss to the Kings on Saturday, and he has five points (2G, 3A) in his last five outings; he also leads team defensemen with 10 points, seven of which have come at even strength. And though results have been mixed, advanced metrics indicate that he's been tasked with facing some of the toughest competition game after game, proof that the Oilers are already counting on Klefbom to play big minutes despite having just 95 NHL games under his belt.


After allowing 13 goals in his last three starts, Cam Talbot won't be the goalie facing Chicago on Wednesday. Instead, Anders Nilsson will be in net, searching for his fourth win of the season. The Islanders' third-round draft pick in 2009, whose were held by the Blackhawks until last summer's trade to Edmonton, spent last season with AK Bars Kazan in the KHL, posting a superb .936 save percentage and 1.71 goals-against average and backstopping his team to the KHL Final, where they lost to a St. Petersburg team that featured the talents of Panarin and Viktor Tikhonov. Nilsson has a .902 SV% and 3.21 GAA in seven appearances for the Oilers this season. Corey Crawford will be Chicago's starter, going for his eighth career win against the Oilers; he made 34 saves on 36 shots in the Nov. 8 victory.

Youth and speed have been Edmonton's defining characteristics for a few seasons now, and under McLellan the Oilers have played with better structure this season, but there's still a long way to go before this team can consider itself a challenger in the stacked Western Conference. Still, the talent at the top end of the roster means Edmonton can score with the best of them, and over the years, the Blackhawks have occasionally had trouble keeping the likes of Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at bay. The Blackhawks can keep the Oilers on the back foot by establishing themselves in the offensive zone, but they'll also need to play smart at both blue lines to prevent the game from ranging into freewheeling territory.

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