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Blackhawks look to continue fast start against Oilers

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Joel Quenneville isn't letting a storyline get in the way of putting his best lineup on the ice.

The Chicago Blackhawks' coach will start his top goalie, Corey Crawford, against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday at United Center (7:30 p.m., WGN, SNET-W, SNET-EDM), less than 24 hours after earning the win in a 5-2 road victory against the Dallas Stars.

The decision means that struggling 40-year old veteran Nikolai Khabibulin will have to keep waiting for a chance to turn his season around.

"[Khabibulin] definitely got some consideration," Quenneville said during a press conference two hours before puck drop. "I know the last couple of weeks it's been a light schedule, only going like four games a week, so we expect to get him in here real soon."

Khabibulin has a 4.73 goals-against average and his save percentage is languishing at .818 despite a 1-0-1 record in three games. He has allowed 10 goals on the last 47 shots he's faced and was pulled midway through his last outing on Oct. 29 at home against the Ottawa Senators.

Khabibulin played the last four seasons with the Oilers, but facing his former team wasn't enough on its own to earn him the start against a team that has given the Blackhawks fits the past three seasons.

"We like the way he's been practicing," Quenneville said. "He's practiced well, but we know that's a dangerous team over there and we're respectful for what they can do. We're looking to get Nik back in there. The next couple weeks we've got many games, we've got four or five games in a week, so we're going to get him in."

The Blackhawks and Oilers are at opposite ends of the spectrum coming into the first of three games against each other this season.

Chicago (11-2-4) is off to a strong start in defense of its 2013 Stanley Cup championship and is tied at 26 points atop the Central Division with the Colorado Avalanche.

They Blackhawks are also looking to sweep a back-to-back set for the third time in four tries this season, with each of the second games at home.

"Our first game we usually play good and then it's been nice coming back home and having home ice and the crowd behind us," Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell said. "Sometimes I feel better the second game. We have a lot of time off. I know [Quenneville] always emphasizes getting our rest, so we get our rest for these back-to-backs."

The Oilers (4-12-2) are trying to avoid being swept a third straight time in their third back-to-back set. They have a 1-6-1 record in their past eight games and have dropped two straight on a four-game road trip that concludes Sunday night.

Edmonton sits dead last in the Western Conference and Pacific Division with 10 points and lost 4-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.

Still, assuming the Blackhawks will have it easy against Edmonton is probably a mistake. Despite their struggles, the Oilers have given Chicago nightmares the past few years.

Chicago won two of three games last season, but the one they lost was a 6-5 final score March 10 at United Center. The season before, Edmonton blew out Chicago twice at Rexall Place by scores of 9-2 and 8-4, with Sam Gagner logging a mind-boggling eight-point game in the second one (four goals and four assists).

"I believe some of their guys, they are probably looking for when they play Chicago," said Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa, who scored two goals against the Stars on Saturday and has eight goals to go with six assists in 17 games. "For whatever reason, it seems like they play so well against us. I don't know if the style of our game is [an] advantage to them, but for whatever reason they always play great against us ... we always have a hard time [playing] against them."

Neither team held a morning skate.

Chicago has played defenseman Sheldon Brookbank up front at right wing on the third line the past two games, but rookie Jeremy Morin could possibly get back into that spot with the back-to-back scenario. Blackhawks veteran forward Michal Handzus (upper body), who's missed six games, skated on his own Sunday morning and is still day-to-day.

Here is how the Blackhawks and Oilers might line up Sunday night:


Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky

David Perron - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle

Jesse Joensuu - Boyd Gordon - Ryan Jones

Ryan Smyth - Mark Arcobello - Nail Yakupov

Andrew Ference - Jeff Petry

Anton Belov - Philip Larsen

Nick Schultz - Taylor Fedun

Devan Dubnyk

Jason LaBarbera

Scratched: Will Acton

Injured: Steve MacIntyre (knee), Tyler Pitlick (knee), Justin Schultz (groin), Richard Bachman (lower body), Luke Gazdic (shoulder)


Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Brandon Pirri - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Sheldon Brookbank

Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michael Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Nikolai Khabibulin

Scratches: Jeremy Morin

Injured: Michal Handzus (upper body), Brad Mills (lower body), Michael Kostka (foot)

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