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Blackhawks continue trip, try to extend Oilers' woes

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (35-13-4) at OILERS (16-28-6)

Last 10: Chicago 6-3-1; Edmonton 0-8-2

Season Series: The Hawks have won both of their previous meetings with the Oil this season, the last a 5-2 victory at Rexall Place during their annual circus trip on Nov. 21.

Big Story: As the Hawks start the home stretch of their season-high eight-game road trip, they'll look to take two points in Edmonton against the reeling Oilers.

Team Scope:

In a year that has been so fruitful for Chicago, the Blackhawks' recent stumble since crossing the border might be the closest thing they have to a slump. That said, the Hawks are likely frustrated with their 1-2 mark since beginning the Canadian half of their current road swing. Fortunately for them, Tuesday's game in Edmonton will be their last on Canadian soil in the regular season. Chicago is still putting on the pressure -- the Hawks outshot Vancouver 44-28 in their last outing, but were stymied by Roberto Luongo at the top of his game. If the Blackhawks maintain that kind of pressure against the floundering Oilers they could have a solid sendoff before finishing their big trip with two games in California.

Coach Joel Quenneville may have a problem on his hand between the pipes however. While backup Antti Niemi was solid in Chicago's win over Calgary last week, he was pulled in the first period against the Canucks while making consecutive starts for the first time this season. That would seem to indicate that Cristobal Huet is likely to be in net, but the Frenchman has struggled on the road recently, surrendering a 4.50 goals-against average in his last six road appearances.

With the struggles in northern Alberta lately, it's easy to forget the Oilers were in the Stanley Cup Final just four years ago. Edmonton has been beset all season with offensive struggles, flu bugs and a number of injuries that have them at the bottom of the NHL standings. Unfortunately for Pat Quinn's crew, times have only gotten tougher lately. The Oil has dropped 10 straight games and 17 of its last 18 overall. The frustration may have come to a head Friday, as the Oilers lost their last outing in heartbreaking fashion, with the Stars tallying the game-winner with 22.2 seconds remaining.

Edmonton will have had a three day break from games by the time Tuesday comes around, and some head-clearing couldn't hurt. Despite what appears more and more to be a lost season in the Gateway to the North, the Oilers did manage to find some frivolity on Sunday when they raised $40,000 for charity at the 2010 Edmonton Oilers Skills Competition powered by Reebok. The light-hearted afternoon may have been the best thing for a team in need of some positive energy.

Who's Hot: Jonathan Toews continues to produce for the Hawks. Captain Serious has six points in his last five games. … In Edmonton, Sam Gagner has been one of the few productive skaters, tallying three goals in the last two games.

Injury Report:
Edmonton's Ladislav Smid (concussion), Gilbert Brule (flu-like symptoms) and Sam Gagner (knee) are all questionable for Tuesday, while the Hawks may see the return of Dave Bolland, who has been out several months after back surgery. According to reports, Bolland has joined the team and will skate Tuesday.

Stat Pack:
The Oilers' current slump is their worst losing streak since a 12-game skid that ended in March of 2007. Things could be worse for Edmonton, however. While the Oil has only managed two points during its current slide, the 12-game stretch three years ago yielded just one.

Puck Drop:
On paper this looks like one of the bigger mismatches of the regular season, but the cellar-dwelling Oilers will break their victory drought at some point. While the Hawks still lead the Central by 13 points, their recent struggles and the grind of the long trip could make them a prime candidate to come out with a flat performance. Chicago might also be facing a goaltender it has never seen before. While Devan Dubnyk is still searching for his first NHL win, the former first-round pick has gotten the bulk of the work in net for Edmonton lately and could be in line for his third straight start. If the Hawks are unfazed and still pull off the victory, however, it will be their fifth straight at Rexall Place.

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