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Blackhawks open six-game trip in Edmonton

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (9-9-2) at OILERS (4-9-3)


Last 10 -- Chicago 4-5-1; Edmonton 2-5-3

Season Series -- Edmonton has taken both meetings with Chicago this season, the most recent a 2-1 victory in Chicago on Nov. 7.

Big Story -- As the Blackhawks sit five points back of first, they open what will prove a crucial six-game road trip in Edmonton Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Oilers will try to get a third win against the defending champs to jumpstart what has been an otherwise difficult opening month of the season.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks -- Anyone looking for Bulls and Blackhawks at the United Center over the next weeks would do well to save themselves the trip to 1901 W. Madison St. As is the case every November, the Hawks will spend the next two weeks away from home on their annual circus trip, while Barnum and Bailey run elephants around the Madhouse, but for a team that typically defends its home ice gallantly, this six-game trek may be coming at the right time. Chicago's overtime win against Anaheim Sunday was its first at the UC in five games, and first in four games overall. A tour through Western Canada and California may be an appropriate break from the Windy City.

Getting their offense back into shape would be a good start, and Sunday's win might be a sign that the team is coming around. Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa each tallied two points after going three and seven games, respectively, without finding their way to the scoresheet, but the recent funk of Jonathan Toews, who has gone four games without a goal or assist continues to loom large. The spotty play in net of Marty Turco hasn't helped matters either. Turco has just one win in his last five starts wth a 2.96 goals-against average over that stretch.

Oilers -- If there is any team that might be set to give the Hawks fits as they start their trip, however, it just might be Edmonton. The Oilers' start, which has netted them 11 points and last place in the Western standings, has been far from ideal. But in a bizarre twist, Edmonton seems to have Chicago's number. Only twice in the last 14 games have the Oilers been on the long side of the ledger, but each time was in the not-so-friendly confines of the United Center.

Of course, Edmonton will have to overcome a significant amount of negative momentum to get win No. 3 against the Hawks this season. The Oilers dropped their last game 8-2 Sunday afternoon in New York, and while there was good news with Shawn Horcoff scoring in his return after missing three games due to injury, the rest of the story provides little optimism. Starting goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has lost his last three starts and given up 18 goals in that span, and backup Devan Dubnyk, who is 0-0-2 with a 2.98 GAA in three appearances this year, hasn't fared much better.

Who's Hot -- After getting some recent playing time on the Hawks' top line, Viktor Stalberg has goals in two straight games. Sam Gagner has been pulling his wait for the Oil, tallying four points in five games.

Injury Report -- Ladislav Smid (head), Magnus Paajarvi (stomach virus) and Theo Peckham (sore wrist) are all listed as questionable for Edmonton, while Chicago should have a full lineup.

Stat Pack -- Edmonton's two wins in Chicago this year are surprising not just because of their respective recent histories, but because the Hawks had won seven of their previous eight games against the Oilers. In fact, Chicago might be more comfortable in Alberta when it faces the Oil. The Hawks haven't lost at Rexall Place since Feb. 6, 2008, which was also the last time Edmonton beat Chicago in regulation.

Puck Drop -- Typically a six-game road trip is a difficult and exhausting part of any schedule, but for a team that needs wins to climb back into its division race, the Hawks are hoping a November visit to Alberta will be the boost they need. Chicago will have to start winning in bunches to make a move up the standings. First-place Detroit only has a three-point edge in the Central over Chicago, but the Red Wings have five games in hand. As the Circus Trip starts, Chicago's hurdles might be significantly bigger than they look.

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