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Blackhawks face McDavid for the first time on Monday

by Emerald Gao /

The Circus Trip reaches its midpoint on Monday, when the Blackhawks battle Edmonton in the first of three meetings this season. Chicago's 2-1-0 record so far has been has been the product of inspired late-game pushes and timely goaltending, after suffering from slow starts. It took a late goal by Marian Hossa to secure a win Calgary, and Saturday's win in Vancouver relied on a three-goal comeback in the third period, a strong performance by Scott Darling in overtime after the Blackhawks had a potential winner called back for offsides and another game-winner by Hossa, who now has 10 goals in his last 12 outings. As a result, Chicago still holds a five-point lead in the Central Division.

The Oilers were a question mark entering the 2016-17 season, having made a significant trade with New Jersey to swap elite left-winger Taylor Hall for defenseman Adam Larsson. The team burst out of the gate, winning seven of their first eight games of the season, but have since faltered, although they still share first place in the Pacific. Edmonton snapped a five-game losing skid on Saturday with a 5-2 win in Dallas.

Part of the explanation for the Oilers' losing streak lies in the power play, where they haven't connected on their last 15 chances, and they averaged just 1.8 goals per game during that stretch. But with offensive weapons littered throughout Edmonton's forward lines, the potential is always there for a high-scoring affair.

Monday's tilt is also notable as the first time the Blackhawks will face Connor McDavid, the 2015 first-overall pick and newly anointed Oilers captain who missed all three matchups his rookie season due to injury. The 19-year-old is known for his exceptional skating ability and hockey sense, as he's routinely seen knifing his way through a gaggle of defenders to create a scoring opportunity. McDavid is fresh off his first career hat trick, scored in Dallas on Saturday, which broke a goalless streak dating back to Oct. 22. Despite the lengthy drought, he still ranked among the league's top contributors, and after Saturday's games he shared first in the NHL with 14 assists and 22 points. Since the start of 2015-16, when McDavid made his NHL debut, his 1.09 points per game pace ranks third among all skaters behind only Patrick Kane (1.25) and Sidney Crosby (1.10).

A recurring theme for the Blackhawks this season has been the performance of their rookie class, and so far on the Circus Trip they've delivered. Ryan Hartman has tallied in two straight games, giving him five points (4G, 1A) on the season. His goal on Saturday against the Canucks tied the game at 3-3 and was set up brilliantly by fellow rookie Vinnie Hinostroza, who broke his goose egg in a big way, contributing a goal and two assists for his first NHL points. Defenseman Michal Kempny picked up his second NHL assist (his first game the night before, against Calgary), and Tyler Motte also returned to the lineup after missing five games with a lower-body injury.

"The first part of the season you're more worried about just staying in the lineup and doing things right, with the puck and without the puck," Hinostroza said after Saturday's game. "Once we got that down, I think we're all pretty comfortable, and we're going to keep getting more scoring chances so that we can be that secondary scoring."

The Oilers haven't received too many offensive contributions from their blue line this season; three defensemen are tied for the lead at five points each. One name that has found the scoresheet in two consecutive games is Oscar Klefbom, who also has three assists to his name this year. The 2011 first-round draft pick had been scoreless up to that point, but not for lack of trying-he ranks fourth on the team and first among blueliners with 43 shots on goal. Overall, Klefbom has been shooting more this season, averaging around 2.3 SOG per game after hovering around the 1.6 mark in each of the last two campaigns.

CHI: Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body)
EDM: Brandon Davidson (upper body), Iiro Pakarinen (lower body), Mark Fayne (lower body), Andrew Ference (lower body)


Schmaltz -- Toews -- Kane
Panarin -- Anisimov -- Hossa
Desjardins -- Kruger -- Motte
Hartman -- Hinostroza -- Panik

Keith -- Campbell
Kempny -- Seabrook
Forsling -- Hjalmarsson


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